Religion, Religiosity, and the Decline of Marital Fertility in the United States, 1850-1930

J. David Hacker, Binghamton University, State University of New York (SUNY)

Demographic historians have long suspected that cultural factors played an important role in the historical decline of marital fertility in the United States. This paper relies on the 1850-1930 IPUMS samples of the U.S. census to investigate correlates of marital fertility among native-born white women of native parentage, focusing on the relationship between religion, religiosity, and fertility. Two proxies of religious sentiment are found to be significantly correlated with marital fertility. First, county-level census data indicate that the presence of Congregationalists and Universalists was associated with lower marital fertility, while the presence of Lutherans was associated with higher marital fertility. Second, the proportion of own children with biblical names--believed to be a proxy of parental religiosity--was found to be positively associated with marital fertility. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that “traditional” religious beliefs were an impediment to the adoption of family limitation strategies.

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Presented in Session 61: Religion and Family Formation in the United States