Be Fruitful and Multiply: Changing Family Formation Behavior and the Role of Religion, Religiosity and Ethnicity

Petra Nahmias, Princeton University

The concepts of religion and ethnicity are changing over time as is family formation behavior. This paper explores the interlocking roles that religion, religiosity and ethnicity play in the family formation decisions of individuals and how that role has changed over time. Using unique data from the Houston Area Study from 1983 to 2006, the observed relationships are explored in order to elucidate the mechanisms through which religion, religiosity and ethnicity combine to influence socio-demographic behavior. The results show that ethnicity clearly continues to define fertility and family forming behavior, with Blacks and Hispanics displaying elevated fertility compared with Whites, and Hispanics a relative propensity to marriage while Blacks exhibit the opposite effect. Religion, on the other hand, especially Catholicism, is having a declining effect. However, the effect of religion and religiosity on demographic behavior differs according to ethnicity, indicating the importance of the cultural context within which these traits operate.

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