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Religion and birth rates – a correlation

Science Daily (one of my essential web sites) reports on on a journal story correlating teenage birth rates to religiosity in their state. The authors of the study speculate on the cause, “We conjecture that religious communities in the US are more successful in discouraging the use of contraception among their teenagers than they are in discouraging sexual intercourse itself”.

Many, many people who see this study might read into it the wrong way. The study is not causal. That is, the research can only find a relationship between two variables; it was not intended, nor can it be used to represent, the cause of the correlation. While the author’s speculation appears valid to those of us with a non-religious point of view, it may not be correct. Also, I suspect it’s not the whole story.

One of my favorite science quote (by Ben Goldacre) is “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.”

It’s established that low income is related to greater religiosity and higher birth rates. Yet, when the study controls for this, the correlation between religion and births still appears. We are seeing a complicated cultural interplay.

We hear of “Abstinence pledges” and “Purity Balls” (no joke)  that are part of the upper middle class communities. We know these don’t work. Abstinence pledges might keep kids kids for a little while longer but when nature kicks in, these young adults do not even know how to use contraceptives and end up with higher rates of STDs.

Kids of teen mothers generally don’t fare as well as other children. Born into less than idea living situations, they have a hard time escaping the low income and religiousness. So, the cycle continues.

The most disturbing aspect to me is the position of women in this situation. Religion in no way empowers women, it degrades them to secondary status or possibly to simple property and baby-making machines. What the hell century are we in? To move a country forward, we need to empower all it’s citizens with education and opportunities across the board. We need to plan productive lives, not leave it to God’s will.

I can blame the despicable Bush-era leaders who were woefully backwards and prejudiced towards women, non-Christians and people who think. But, that would be too easy. The causes, I think you’ll find, are a bit more complicated than that.

Science Daily:
Prepublish journal article:

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