Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Part Two of "The Evolution of Human Progress Through the Liberal Enlightenment"


In explaining some of the trends in their book, Bailey and Tupy rely on the World Values Survey, which has been collecting social survey data for 40 years in over 120 countries around the globe, under the direction of Ronald Inglehart, Christian Welzel, and others.  Bailey and Tupy cite this survey data as evidence for Trend 12--"Global Happiness Is Rising."  They write:

"University of Michigan sociologist Ronald Inglehart, founder of the WVS, reports in his book Cultural Evolution that ascending levels of subjective well-being correlate strongly with rising per capita income, rising levels of democracy and increasing social liberalization as expressed by growing tolerance for racial, sexual, and religious outgroups.  Those three factors combine to broaden the range of free choices available to people, thus enhancing happiness" (31).

Their graph showing increasing "global average happiness, 1981-2012" is taken from Inglehart's book.

If you look at Inglehart's book, you will see that he does report, as Bailey and Tupy indicate, that "rising freedom of choice" is correlated with "rising happiness."  But he also reports that "religious people tend to be happier than non-religious people," and therefore "both faith and freedom can be conducive to happiness" (Inglehart 2018, 164-172).  Oddly, Bailey and Tupy are silent about this--how increasing religiosity contributes to increasing happiness.  In fact, they say nothing about religion anywhere in their book, although they do casually refer to increasing religious toleration, as they do in the passage I just quoted.

For Trend 17--"Choosing Smaller Families"--Bailey and Tupy present the evidence that women in the richer and freer countries are choosing to have so few children that fertility has fallen below replacement levels.  A fertility rate of 2.1 children per average female is required to keep the population from shrinking--one child to replace each parent and a small fraction to cover infant and childhood mortality.  European fertility rates are generally below this replacement level.  If this were to continue, eventually there would be no Europeans left in Europe.  Bailey and Tupy regard this as a positive trend because it shows that women in these modern countries have more reproductive freedom than women in traditional societies who were forced to spend their lives bearing and caring for large numbers of children.  

Bailey and Tupy are silent, however, about the success of the alternative reproductive strategy adopted by religious people, who tend to have high fertility rates.  Inglehart reports: "Due to these demographic trends, the world as a whole now has more people with traditional religious views than ever before-and they constitute a growing proportion of the world's population" (68).  To recognize this, Bailey and Tupy could have added to their list of trends the trend towards increasing religious belief.

Perhaps they didn't do this because they agree with Inglehart's claim that modernization brings secularization--declining religious belief.  But then it seems Inglehart is contradicting himself in saying that religious belief is both increasing and declining.  Inglehart denies that there is any contradiction here by explaining:

"Rich societies are secularizing, but they contain a declining share of the world's population; while poor societies are not secularizing, and they contain a rising share of the world's population.  Thus, modernization does indeed bring a de-emphasis on religion within virtually any country that experiences it--but the percentage of the world's population for whom religion is important is rising" (68).

So it is consistent to say that we see opposing trends in different parts of the world: religion is declining in rich societies but increasing in poor societies.

That this is not exactly true, however, becomes clear as soon as one notices the differences in fertility rates within societies.  In European societies, average fertility rates are generally well below replacement levels--around 1.50.  But serious religious believers are the one European group showing fertility rates well above replacement. In Western Europe, the more religious Christians continue to have large families: for women ages 18-44 who attend a religious service more than once a week, the average fertility rate is 2.66, although it's lower in other parts of Europe (Frejka and Westoff 2008, 23).  In Israel, Ultra-Orthodox women have very high fertility rates--an average of 7.1 per woman compared to 3.1 in the general population (Malach and Cahaner 2018).  

If this trend continues, the religious people will always outnumber the irreligious people around the world, in both the poorer and the richer societies.  In the evolution of religion, it's survival of the fittest; and the religious have higher reproductive fitness than the irreligious (Sanderson 2018; Stark 2015).

To be continued . . .


Frejka, Tomas, and Charles F. Westoff. 2008. "Religion, Religiousness, and Fertility in the US and in Europe." European Journal of Population 24:5-31.

Inglehart, Ronald F. 2018. Cultural Evolution: People's Motivations Are Changing, and Reshaping the World.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Malach, Gilad, and Lee Cahaner. 2018. "2018 Statistical Report on Ultra-Orthodox Society in Israel." The Israel Democracy Institute.

Sanderson, Stephen K. 2018. Religious Evolution and the Axial Age: From Shamans to Priests to Prophets. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Stark, Rodney. 2015. The Triumph of Faith: Why the World Is More Religious Than Ever. Wilmington, DL: ISI Books.

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