- Nov 22, 2003
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Why Americans Breed
Nicholas Eberstadts American Interest article on American demographic exceptionalism is a great antidote to the badly undermotivated worry that America has lost its animal spirits and assimilationist mojo. His conclusion:
U.S. demographic exceptionalism is not only here today; it will be here tomorrow, as well. It is by no means beyond the realm of the possible that Americas demographic profile will look even more exceptional a generation hence than it does today. If the American moment passes, or U.S. power in other ways declines, it wont be because of demography.
Hell yeah! To those who worry that strong American birthrates are actually due to high rates of immigration, and that we will shortly become the Estados Unidos Norte Mexicanos, Eberstadt points out that
The single most important factor in explaining Americas high fertility level these days is the birth rate of the countrys Anglo majority, who still account for roughly 55 percent of U.S. births. Over the past decade and a half, the TFR [total fertility rate] for non-Hispanic white Americans averaged 1.82 births per woman per lifetimesubreplacement, but more than 20 percent higher than corresponding national levels for western Europe, and much higher if one compares Anglo TFRs with those of western Europes native born populations.
So what explains the fact that America is the land where white people reproduce? Heres Eberstadt:
Public opinion surveys, for example, have thoroughly established that Americans tend to be more optimistic about the future than Europeansa disposition that could weigh on the decision to bring children into the world. Similarly, more Americans report being proud of their country than do Europeans, which, quite plausibly, could lead to more births. All else equal, patriotism or nationalism may conduce to higher birth rates. Most portentously, perhaps, survey data indicate that the United States is still in the main a believing Christian country, with a high percentage of households actively worshipping on a monthly or weekly basis. In striking contrast to western Europe, which is often provocatively (but not unfairly) described as a post-Christian territory these days, religion is alive and well in the United States.
He then goes on to lament that the U.S. Census collects no data on religious affiliation. My gut says that Eberstadt wants the religiosity hypothesis to be true but seems to know that the macro-level trend in religious participation cuts the wrong way for his theory, which perhaps is what led him to produce this sentence:
Attempts to connect those two factors on the basis of broad, aggregate observations and trends run the risks of committing what statisticians call the ecological fallacymistakenly associating two unrelated phenomena for want of examining relationships at the individual level.
Well, I will run the risk by showing you a chart of the aggregate trend in religious participation in the U.S.