78 Comments
May 20·edited May 20

Expect more of this in the future. American atheists have a fertility rate of 1.2 (and dropping), while church-going Evangelicals have a fertility rate of 2.2. Similar story with Jews, Mormons, Catholics and Muslims. Atheists won't be a factor in 3 generations.

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Evolution favoring religion is delicious irony! 😂😂

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Indeed

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Nominally religious people who left their milque-toast church are irrelevant long term, as the extreme groups make up for it given enough time. Nominally religious types leaving their churches (and synagogues) have been the drivers of decline over the past 50 years but aren't a long-term factor due to fundementalist growth.

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Depending on what precisely you mean by "fundamentalists" -- not a word one should use, in my opinion, as it's imprecise and pejorative -- they (or we) haven't been growing though. Unless you're using the word "fundamentalist" to mean "Plain" (like the Amish), which isn't a normal manner of speaking. The normal way to use "fundamentalist" is, as Plantinga pointed out, "This dumb sumb**** whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine."

Apostasy has accelerated right in line with the fertility gap growing. Maybe that dynamic will shift, but it can easily turn the other way, with the fertility gap either shrinking, or apostasy accelerating further to make up for it. In any case, the 3-year trend Ryan is discussing surely doesn't have much to do with fertility.

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People ascribe values to words, not the other way around. If someone is primed to think that religion is bad they'll hate terms like "fundamentalist", if someone is primed to think religion (which ever it may be) is the Truth, they'll welcome terms like "fundamentalist", unless they're playing for optics.

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Ok, but in the real world practically no one self-describes as fundamentalist. It has become an exonym and a mild slur. It’s also a hindrance to communication because its definition is unclear, since again, no one self-describes with it, and people who describe others with it mean different things by it, in many cases describing groups they don’t really understand.

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Fair, but I can't think of a term that works for "the extremely religious" other than "religious extremist" and "religious fundamentalist" , perhaps there's a clunky acronym that no one uses.

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If this was purely about fertility rates that might make sense, but that is not the case. I’m struggling to find the stats on this (maybe Ryan can help) but I know that there are a significant number of atheists who were born and raised in a different faith tradition. I was raised Catholic, but no longer believe. Many of my fellow students in Catholic HS fall into this category as well. It is very bold of you to assume that atheists will play no factor 3 generations from now when the numbers are pointing towards Christians’ influence decreasing, especially as generation replacement takes hold.

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May 20·edited May 20

I understand what you're saying (I'm atheist myself), but the adjustment period is closing. Nominally religious people have left once community pressure towards being religious eased up. The most fertile religious sects are the most extreme, the least fertile groups are the least religious. Even if only the Amish and Hasidic Jews (who both have retention rates over 80% and rising) are counted it would take 8 generations for them to form a majority of the American population (perhaps quicker than that, mainstream demographers downplay population collapse among secular groups), but there are many other extreme groups, and extreme groups within moderate groups (such as TLM Catholics) who will over time devour the moderates demographically meanwhile the nominal "believers" have already abandoned the faith.

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A modern economically advanced state is incompatible with Amish culture. At some point they will either have a demographic transition, more of them will cease being Amish and the American civilization will collapse. A similar thing is the case in Israel where the most religiously conservative Jews are excluded from military service and breed like rabbits. At some point they will have to start having less children, begin to live more like their more-secular peers, or the state will collapse.

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As someone who lives near one of the largest Amish communities in the US, I can assure you that the Amish do just fine in the modern, advanced economy. They built my kitchen cabinets and got paid handsomely for it. Just try selling a 50-200 acre farm in my area to anyone other than an Amish family looking to split it up amongst the kids. Their culture does not meaningfully keep them out of the area's economic activity.

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But in the future being proposed there would be no you who needs cabinets, only other Amish who can make their own. Also there won’t be any “others” from whom to buy land and the Amish owners of the land will need it for their own children.

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May 20·edited May 20

>A modern economically advanced state is incompatible with Amish culture.

Indeed, but if this is the case Amish culture will survive, not the "modern economy". "Demographic transition" is temporary and fertility rates will begin to rise again, as Hasidic Jews and Amish prove. The vacuum will be filled.

>At some point they will have to start having less children, begin to live more like their more-secular peers, or the state will collapse.

These are deeply religious people who've resisted feminism or whatever the cause of fertility collapse is for every other group on Earth so far. Not to mention the holocaust. No state intervention other than a Chinese-style mandatory sterilization will work. Hasidic Judaism has gone through harsher trials.

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I am aware of that. And this works fine as long as the Amish a smaller portion of the population. But what happened when there is no more no more economic demand that can be filled by people with an 8th grade education? If they become more educated, they will be abandoning that which makes the Amish, the separation from modernity.

It seems that many Hasidim are also less educated, probably for the same reason as are the Amish, that is to preserve their culture. So this same thing applies here too.

I agree they will keep their beliefs. But how are their children to support themselves when there no longer are jobs they can do with the level of education compatible with them retaining their culture.

Adolescents tend to become enculturated by their peers and near-peers a bit older than they. This seems to be a human universal. Religious communities like the Amish and Hasidim know this, which is why they seek to produce new adults in an environment in which exposure to models incompatible with their religious beliefs is minimized.

You cannot do this AND operating a complex advanced economy. I think the most likely outcome is they will start to control their numbers in order to maintain their cultural identity while operating within a modern economy, in which the tasks destructive to the faith continue to be performed by others.

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>You cannot do this AND operating a complex advanced economy.

So they (Amish, Hasidim etc) won't operate in a "complex advanced economy". My point is that those who are participating in "modern economy" are not reproducing.

>A modern economically advanced state is incompatible with Amish culture.

Indeed, but if this is the case Amish culture will survive, not the "modern economy". "Demographic transition" is temporary and fertility rates will begin to rise again, as Hasidic Jews and Amish prove. The vacuum will be filled.

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“Too much growth” was never the cause of a societal collapse. Stagnant societies are the ones that are at risk.

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May 20·edited May 20

That point about state collapse is probably much more true among the Israeli ultra-orthodox, who aren't very economically productive and tend to rely heavily on government assistance, than the Amish, who tend to be hardworking taxpayers who earn legitimate middle-class incomes, without government assistance. The Amish also live in more rural areas with a very low cost of living (and which continue to empty out of other Americans, with every passing decade). And it depends on the group, but they're generally much more open to using technology for commercial purposes than bringing it in the home, and I think they'd be even more adaptive if they needed to in order to survive economically.

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Maybe would adapt. So did 17th cent Christians, who then lost the sort of faith they had had them. Adapting threatens the ame happening to them. Why do you suppose they withdrew in the first place? But since they know how to manage with a lower level of technology, perhaps the elimination of the remaining English thru a systemic collapse would be just what the doctor ordered

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But again, they have adapted to using technology in commercial applications. There are plenty of Amish that run farms with basically modern technology. Lots of Amish work in construction, or as contractors, again using modern methods and technology. Many Amish use phones for business but don't have a phone at home. So you're talking about a change on the margin, especially for certain sub-groups that have been less willing to adopt technology for commercial applications, but they have other groups that HAVE adopted that technology and continued to thrive.

A lot of this has to do with what level of technological progress you imagine, and what time scale. Like, will there still be roofers, and carpenters, and plumbers in the future? I think yes. My general bet is that AI will hit a plateau, and that technological progress is stagnating and plateauing (though it will remain positive, just with a negative second derivative).

But if you imagine that jobs like roofing will be done by robots, and the only work will be programming those robots. Or maybe programming the software that programs the robots. Who knows. In a world more like that, the Amish will struggle to find an economically productive role, but so will the vast majority of non-Amish. So either they will starve or live on the dole.

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The gist of this comment seems to be that the "modern economy" beats all, even if all those who are involved in it do not reproduce in sufficient numbers to sustain themselves, while many groups that don't interact with the "modern economy" or are antithetical to it (as you say the Amish and Hasidim are) are reproducing in great numbers. This does not make sense unless the modern economy is enforced gunboat diplomacy style on these fundamentalist groups, which I don't see happening.

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No, the advanced economy can collapse and the society revert to a less developed state. This is sometimes called a dark age.

However, with the rise of AI, it will become possible for machines to do a lot of the work that you need workers for. So if the number of workers needed decline one can imagine a world in which the vast majority of humanity will live simple, with a collection of machines and declining numbers of humans keeping material society operational so the bulk of humanity continues to benefit from modern advances without actually doing anything to produce them. Perhaps in the end it will be androids maintaining a whole variety of "primitive" humans living in their "natural" cultural environments like a zoo.

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I think you forgot about the fact/or that "today's" atheists tend to come from religious stock.....given that the none's don't fit that proliferation profile....and the younger cohorts tend to trend NONE.....my somewhat informed take on things would be that, since NONEs' kids probably aren't going to be "socialized" in religious households/families, NONEs will be increasing...they are already 40+% of their cohorts. I can't wait to see where the "Alphas" are going to skew.

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Almost all atheists I know (myself included) were raised as religious and left it. I assumed all these religious folk have a bunch of kids because they know deep down a few will probably defect. I guess you'll have to indoctrinate them harder and up the a**se

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How much, if any, might immigration explain some of this?

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author

Wrote about that here:

https://www.graphsaboutreligion.com/p/would-more-immigration-slow-secularization

Immigration has little impact on long term trends in American religion.

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The Catholic Church has buried every one of Her undertakers.

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Really wondering about the role of gender here. Any chance some of this could be disaggregated and show what women are up to you?

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author

I think this post is what you are looking for:

https://www.graphsaboutreligion.com/p/women-are-more-religious-than-men

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Really great work! Thanks! Have you thought about any connection between women's burnout with service work in the church and their burnout with housework/ childcare in the home?

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Pew has a lot of breakdowns in their data, you can see it here: https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2024/01/24/religious-nones-in-america-who-they-are-and-what-they-believe/

Women are more likely to stay religious, and more likely to be "nothing in particular" rather than "atheist" or "agnostic". (2/3 of "atheists" and "agnostics" are men, women are a majority of the "nothing in particular" crowd.)

Also, 80% of the "nothing in particular" crowd claims to believe in god or a higher power.

I went into depth in this in my article on the subject: https://theflammifer.substack.com/p/examining-the-decline-of-christianity

The "nones" are largely not driven by any increase in atheism; it's the crowd that didn't have much to do with religion no longer claiming that they have anything to do with it now that Christianity is no longer the default in America. I do not have comparable statistics in Europe, but I suspect the general trend is the same.

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Generational replacement was my first thought when reading through the first part of your post - glad you brought that up at the end. I also think the inflection point comment really hits the nail on the head. It really does feel like we are at a crossroads in American politics/religion where I think we will see major shifts in the near future. It will certainly be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

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Statistically, I think the claim here is too strong. If you fitted a linear time trend, then tested for a break, I very much doubt you would get a statistically significant result.

There was a comparable plateau from 2013 to 2018, and another from 2009 to 2012. I'd want to see at least a couple more years of data.

A somewhat similar case is the global warming "hiatus" that caused a lot of excitement a few years back, but has now well and truly been replaced by accelerated heatig.

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I've been listening to Justin Brierly lately. The New Atheist movement of the 2000s-10s used to attack Christianity but many of their spokespeople now see the 'woke' movement as the greater enemy of freethinkers. Even Richard Dawkins now calls himself a "cultural Christian", recognising that much of western culture and many values he holds come from Christianity.

A lot of the rise of non-religious was from people who were nominal Christian. They neither cared for nor disliked the Christian tradition they were raised in. When the Church looked bad, they decided to say they were non-religious. Now some may be going back to being nominal Catholic/Anglican/etc in reaction to the non-religious 'woke' world. They aren't going back to church and many were never there.

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AFAICT, most atheists and agnostics disliked the New Atheists from the start. There was a rival movement A+ specifically for atheists who didn't want to be associated with Dawkins and Harris. Both groups now pretty much forgotten now. Great majority of AA are liberal/left Democrats.

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I'm curious where you think these nones are going- Are they reconnecting with their former faith? Are they finding new religious communities that they resonate with? Are they finding the linguistic tools to categorize themselves beyond "nothing in particular"? I think that by examining where they're going we can start to form a picture of the future religious landscape of America.

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Anecdotally we're seeing a lot of interest in the occult, neo-pagan religions, manifesting, tarot, all these sorts of things made trendy on TikTok; large WitchTok sections at Barnes and Noble; charms and spells sold on Etsy...I could go on. But that's not data. Are any surveys you know of collecting data on new, alternative religions and spiritualities? I'm looking for econ/sociology research and not finding much.

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I've noticed a lot of that too- as well as a growing number of psychedelic churches. It'll be interesting to see if people start joining or forming new communities around these practices or if they'll continue to focus on the individual experience. I don't know of any, but I'd be interested in seeing that data as well.

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Greetings, Ryan Burge.

My name is Daniel Hess. I tweet under the handle @MoreBirths -- essentially on the topic of pronatalism. I am a big fan of your work, especially because religiosity is a major correlate of family formation.

I recently noticed that you blocked me on X and I am not sure what mistake I made. I try not to say anything offensive, but I am still learning. If I did something wrong or violated Twitter protocol in an important way, I want to do better in the future. I feel like we are generally on the same side.

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Hey Dan-

The reason for the block was simple - you asked for me to retweet several of your posts. I can count six in my inbox. I am not a fan of that kind of behavior.

If I like what you write, I will find it and circulate it.

I've never asked anyone to boost anything I've ever written or tweeted. Nor would I ever.

Good content will rise to the top organically.

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Thank you for unblocking. There is no twitter etiquette class that I know of, sorry. I had no idea this was an issue because you never objected.

I only shared threads that touch on religion and fertility, which I thought is highly correlated with your work.

Keep up the good work in any case. May we live long enough to see another great awakening in America!

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Good news that seems to confirm what I've noticed anecdotally. The two main trad Anglican parishes I attend both have an increased number of younger adults in the past couple years.

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If you’re a trad Anglican, shouldn’t you just be a Catholic? Or at least Orthodox, if you really have beef with the magisterium.

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I think you might be missing the impact of large scale immigration in the U.S. in recent years. I find that low income people, especially recent immigrants, are more likely than not to have faith. This is addressed again and again in scripture. As Christ said, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." The higher one goes up the economic ladder the more self-centeredness, self reliance, excessive individualism and worldliness prevails.

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Wrote about that issue of immigration and religion:

https://www.graphsaboutreligion.com/p/would-more-immigration-slow-secularization

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Hesitant to bring politics into the discussion, but I do think it's relevant: A recent piece found that previously non-religious people who support Trump now identify as "Evangelical", essentially as part of a package political- cultural identity. This seems to be a good explanation for the dip in "nones" since 2020.

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As a member of gen z, I think part of the change has definitely to do with the shift on the internet. I remember the New Atheist movement being a big thing, but now all these disparate movements are gone, and there is a stronger fight online for religion than there used to be. In other words, this change is "in the air."

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This is hopeful information. I would add my hope that this will become a sustainable trend of at least five to seven years in length.

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If the atheists keep making policy as they have, in three generations America will be 100% Muslim because everyone else will have been killed.

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Do we have any information on why the plateau or if this percentage decline is cropping up in another religious or non religious category? Where are they going? Did I just that miss that?

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