Just a quick survey of the specialist literature on population dynamics suggests to me that, in addition to increasing wealth, the biggest causes of falling birth rates – no matter how religious a society is – are as follows:
(1) women’s education and participation in the labour force, andBoth of these factors seem to overcome most conservative religious attitudes to high birth rates.
(2) access to birth control.
What is more, even highly conservative countries with fundamentalist governments have been quite happy to impose state-sponsored family planning (see the case of Iran).
Furthermore, a crucial cause of fertility decline is the shifting of women’s first childbearing to older ages (Sobotka 2004; Kohler, Billari and Ortega 2002; Hwang and Ha Lee 2014).
That shifting of childbearing to later years seems to be correlated with higher levels of women’s education and employment in young adulthood (see Martin 2000 and Rindfuss et al. 1996).
Moreover, if women go back to work after their first child, this will drastically decrease their chances of having a second child. By contrast, a woman who does not return to the labour force after a first child and who has a husband with a job that can support a larger family will tend to have more children.
This seems to be true of a developed East Asian nation like South Korea (Ma 2016) (where Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism and secularism exist), or a Third World country like Ghana which has a high degree of conservative religiosity.
The study of Sackey 2005 comes to this conclusion on Ghana:
“To participate in the labour market or not to participate appears to be an issue of survival for women in the Ghanaian economy. Parallel to the rising trend in female participation rates, there has been a tendency towards a decline in fertility. At the core of these patterns has been the schooling factor. This study uses data from the Ghana living standards surveys with demographically enriched information to estimate female labour force participation and fertility models. We find that female schooling matters in both urban and rural localities; both primary and post-primary schooling levels exert significant positive impact on women’s labour market participation, and have an opposite effect on fertility.” (Sackey 2005).And it turns out that Ghana has quite a conservative religious population: it is 58.8% Christian and 25.9% Muslim (see here), but fertility rates are falling because of women’s education and labour force participation.
And what about the Saudi Arabia?
Despite being an extreme religious fundamentalist society, Saudi Arabia’s birth rate per woman has been falling for decades:
Year | Fertility Rate (births per woman)What caused this? Well, it turns out that the explanations above proposed by population researchers seem also to apply to Saudi Arabia, despite it being so religious.
1981 | 7.1
1982 | 7.0
1983 | 6.9
1984 | 6.8
1985 | 6.6
1986 | 6.5
1987 | 6.3
1988 | 6.2
1989 | 6.0
1990 | 5.9
1991 | 5.8
1992 | 5.6
1993 | 5.4
1994 | 5.2
1995 | 5.0
1996 | 4.8
1997 | 4.6
1998 | 4.4
1999 | 4.2
2000 | 4.0
2001 | 3.8
2002 | 3.6
2003 | 3.5
2004 | 3.4
2005 | 3.3
2006 | 3.2
2007 | 3.2
2008 | 3.1
2009 | 3.0
2010 | 3.0
2011 | 2.9
2012 | 2.9
2013 | 2.8
2014 | 2.8
Basu, A. M. 2002.“Why does education lead to lower fertility? A critical review of some of the possibilities,” World Development 30.10: 1779–1790.
Bloom, D. E. D., Canning, G. F. and Finlay, J. E. 2009. “Fertility, female labor force participation, and the demographic dividend,” Journal of Economic Growth 14.2: 79–101.
Hwang, Jinyoung and Jong Ha Lee. 2014. “Women’s education and the timing and level of fertility,”International Journal of Social Economics 41.9: 862–874.
Kohler, H.-P., Billari, F. C. and Ortega, J. A. 2002. “The emergence of lowest-low fertility in Europe during the 1990s,” Population and Development Review 28.4: 641–680.
Ma, Li. 2016. “Female labour force participation and second birth rates in South Korea,” Journal of Population Research 33.2: 173–195.
Martin, S. P. 2000. “Diverging fertility among U.S. women who delay child bearing past age 30,” Demography 37.4: 523–533.
Rindfuss, R. R., Morgan, P. S. and Offutt, K. 1996. “Education and the changing age pattern of American fertility: 1963–1989,” Demography 33.3: 277–229.
Sackey, H. A. 2005. “Female labour force participation in Ghana: the effect of education,” African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) Research Paper No. 150, African Economic Research Consortium, Nairobi.
Sobotka, T. 2004. “Is lowest-low fertility in Europe explained by the postponement of childbearing?,” Population and Development Review 30. 2: 195–220.