You know that old saying, “Demographics are destiny”?
Here at GetReligion we have an observation about religion news trends that is linked to that: “Doctrine is destiny,” especially when doctrines are linked to marriage and family.
I thought of that when reading a long New York Times feature that ran the other day with this headline: “Why Birthrates Among Hispanic Americans Have Plummeted.”
Now, I am sure that this is a very complex subject and that there are lots of trends linked to it. However, I found it fascinating — stunning, actually — that this story is missing one rather logical word — “Catholic.” How do you write about Latino families, marriage and children and not even mention Catholicism and its doctrines (think contraceptives, for starters) on those subjects?
However, the Times team managed to pull that off. Here is a crucial chunk of this story:
As fertility rates across the United States continue to decline — 2017 had the country’s lowest rate since the government started keeping records — some of the largest drops have been among Hispanics. The birthrate for Hispanic women fell by 31 percent from 2007 to 2017, a steep decline that demographers say has been driven in part by generational differences between Hispanic immigrants and their American-born daughters and granddaughters.
It is a story of becoming more like other Americans. Nearly two-thirds of Hispanics in the United States today are born in this country, a fact that is often lost in the noisy political battles over immigration. Young American-born Hispanic women are less likely to be poor and more likely to be educated than their immigrant mothers and grandmothers, according to the Pew Research Center, and many are delaying childbearing to finish school and start careers, just like other American-born women.
“Hispanics are in essence catching up to their peers,” said Lina Guzman, a demographer at Child Trends, a nonprofit research group.
Catholic thinkers would note that the phrase “catching up” contains some interesting assumptions.
Meanwhile, if you know anything about Catholic culture and Hispanics, you know — at the very least — that the regions in the United States in which the church is growing are those where immigrants from Mexico and Latin America are thriving.
Seen any good Our Lady of Guadalupe feature stories lately? Look for them.
But back to the original topic. Let’s state the obvious: In modern America, large families are often linked to strong religious convictions. Here’s a lengthy passage from The Weekly Standard (RIP) that I have quoted here many times, including in a piece entitled, “New York Times asks this faith-free question: Why are young Americans having fewer babies?”
... In a world where childbearing has no practical benefit, people have babies because they want to, either for self-fulfillment or as a moral imperative. "Moral imperative," of course, is a euphemism for "religious compulsion." There are stark differences in fertility between secular and religious people.
The best indicator of actual fertility is "aspirational fertility" — the number of children men and women say they would like to have. Gallup has been asking Americans about their "ideal family size" since 1936. When they first asked the question, 64 percent of Americans said that three or more children were ideal; 34 percent said that zero, one, or two children were ideal. Today only 34 percent of Americans think that a family with three-or-more children is ideal.
But on this question there are two Americas today: a secular population that wants small families (or no family at all) and a religious population that wants larger families.
Religious affiliation is part of the story, but the real difference comes with church attendance. Among people who seldom or never go to church, 66 percent say that zero, one, or two children is the ideal family size, and only 25 percent view three-or-more children as ideal. Among those who go to church monthly, the three-or-more number edges up to 29 percent. But among those who attend church every week, 41 percent say three or more children is ideal, while only 47 percent think that a smaller family is preferable. When you meet couples with more than three children today, chances are they're making a cultural and theological statement.
So, might there be a connection — among Hispanics — to falling birth rates and a fading of this group’s historic ties to the Roman Catholic Church? How does a reporter miss that angle in this story?
I’ll ask another question: Have we reached the point where Hispanics in Pentecostal churches (think Assemblies of God) have a stronger commitment to procreation than (gasp) Catholics?
Meanwhile, the Times piece rolls on — offering lots of secular information linked to money, education, child-free live and the dreams of American individualism.
Money is real. Religion? Not so much.
Birthrates tend to follow economic cycles. The fact that the American rate has not picked up along with the economy in recent years has puzzled demographers. In a survey late last year, the top reasons young women gave for delaying children involved money — children were simply too expensive.
But several young women interviewed for this article said that was not the case for them. Many came from large extended families with aunts and cousins who would care for a baby if need be. Many of those women had been raised by siblings in Mexico as their parents worked. …
Some women said their lives were so busy — many worked full time while also going to school — that they did not have time for friends, never mind boyfriends. Many lived at home in distant suburbs, instead of on campuses in the city, making socializing difficult.
That’s life. Right?