William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Sexual Immorality, Low Birth Rates, And Religion

Pew Research released a survey on the Global Views on Morality, asking adults in each of several countries whether the following activities were morally unacceptable: Extramarital Affairs, Homosexuality, Abortion, Premarital Sex, Divorce, and Contraception Use (they also asked about Alcohol Use and Gambling which I don’t here consider).

This is a good opportunity to see how Sexual Immorality and Birth Rate might tie together, possibly moderated by religion. I found 2014 birth rates from the CIA Fact Book, and the percent of Christian and Muslim residents, also from Pew but reprinted on Wikipedia.

I defined (average) Sexual Immorality as one minus the simple sum of the answers to the six sexuality questions, all divided by six. Higher numbers meant cultures in which it was more likely to find sexual immoral adults.

There is some error in this, probably to the extent that the best we could do is to approximate Sexual Immorality to only the nearest decimal point. Everything I show are also only crude correlations; causal connections, while plausible in the direction indicated by the correlations, are almost certainly weaker than the correlations.

Each of the six individual items correlated to Birth Rate in the way you would imagine: greater approval of each aspect of Sexual Immorality led to lower Birth Rates. Acceptance of Homosexuality and Abortion had the tightest correlations, i.e. had the great diminution on Birth Rates; Extramarital Affairs had the least but still-noticeable effect.

The clearest picture emerged when considering Sexual Immorality as a whole, presented here:

No surprises.

Making whoopee does not equate to making babies.

The horizontal line is drawn at the “replacement” Birth Rate. All highly sexually immoral countries (Sexual Immorality 0.7 or higher) have birth rates below replacement levels. Unless these countries make it up by massive immigration, they’ll soon see population deficits.

All but one country with low Sexual Immorality (less than 0.3) had high birth rates. The United States had a birth rate of 2.01 and Sexual Immorality of 0.62.

Here is a table of Sexual Immorality and Birth Rate by country:

Country Sexual Immorality Birth Rate
France 0.85 2.08
Germany 0.83 1.43
Spain 0.82 1.48
Czech Republic 0.80 1.43
Canada 0.76 1.59
Britain 0.76 1.90
Australia 0.75 1.77
Italy 0.74 1.42
Japan 0.72 1.40
Argentina 0.67 2.25
Chile 0.67 1.84
Poland 0.63 1.33
Greece 0.63 1.41
Israel 0.62 2.62
United States 0.62 2.01
Russia 0.59 1.61
Venezuela 0.58 2.35
Mexico 0.55 2.29
South Korea 0.55 1.22
China 0.55 1.55
Brazil 0.55 1.79
South Africa 0.52 2.23
Senegal 0.48 4.52
India 0.45 2.51
Lebanon 0.45 1.74
Bolivia 0.44 2.80
Jordan 0.42 3.16
Egypt 0.41 2.87
Turkey 0.40 2.08
El Salvador 0.38 1.95
Palestinian ter. 0.38 5.00
Philippines 0.31 3.06
Kenya 0.30 3.54
Malaysia 0.29 2.58
Nigeria 0.28 5.25
Tunisia 0.28 2.00
Indonesia 0.27 2.18
Uganda 0.25 5.97
Ghana 0.18 4.09
Pakistan 0.17 2.86

France leads the bottom and Pakistan takes top honors. France still has a somewhat high birth rate, but it also for a once Christian nation has a comparatively high Muslim population (around 8%) which is driving some of that number. Even a glance at the table suggests religion, particularly the difference between Christian and Muslim religions, might have something to do with explaining the ranks.

The data available is admittedly crude and only measures affiliation and not intensity. These next two plots show the fractions of Christian and Muslim and Sexual Immortality. Obviously, there are other religions, but there aren’t enough countries with other religions to make comparative plots worthwhile.

Christianity can help

Christianity can help

And so can Islam

And so can Islam

Take your time with these plots. Notice that within majority Christian nations, increasing Christianity is associated with lower Sexual Immortality. France only has 63% Christian, a shocking fall from its once top spot. But then France was the birth place of the Revolution against human nature. Germany is close behind. The Philippines, and even several African countries like Kenya, Uganda, and Ghana are all highly Christian and have low Sexual Immorality.

The second plot shows that all countries with majority Muslim populations have low Sexual Immorality. And of course not all of these live by strict Sharia law. It’s also worth noting that of those countries that are majority Christian, the only ones with low Sexual Immorality are still considered “developing” countries.

The three countries with the largest populations with different top religions are China (52% unaffiliated, but increasingly Christian; Sexual Immorality of 0.55), India (80% Hindu; Sexual Immorality of 0.45), and Japan (57% “unaffiliated”; Sexual Immorality of 0.72).

I don’t think there are any surprises in these data. The last remains to make predictions. If these correlations are a guide, the less religious a country becomes the more sexual immoral it will be. It is not clear which drives which; probably both drive each other. And the more sexual immoral a culture is, the fewer babies it will produce.

Update This plot shows the total fraction of Christian + Muslim (starting at 0.5). The influence of religion on Sexual Immorality is now very clear.

Religion works

Religion works: probably

Update I imagine that if I had called “Sexual Immorality” “Pew Questions on Reproduction” there would be a lot less angst. Feelings run high when you tell some people certain behaviors are immoral. Some people on Twitter became apoplectic at the very suggestion.

Everybody (willfully?) missed where I said, “There is some error in this, probably to the extent that the best we could do is to approximate Sexual Immorality to only the nearest decimal point. Everything I show are also only crude correlations; causal connections, while plausible in the direction indicated by the correlations, are almost certainly weaker than the correlations.”

But this does not imply these causal connections are impossible. As I said to Chinahand in the comments, if you express support for homosexuality and act in that fashion, you will not reproduce. If you express support for abortion and have one, you will kill your offspring and not increase the birth rate. If you express support for contraception and use it, then you will lower the birth rate. If you express support for extramarital affairs and have one, you will have less time for your own family and consequently increase your chance for disease and so forth, all of which tends to lower the birth rate.

And so on. Anything that interferes with human mating will necessarily lower the birth rate. Masturbation (Pew didn’t ask this), homosexuality, contraception, divorce, and so on directly interfere with human mating, therefore these all tend to lower the birth rate.

Education cannot lower the birth rate, and I’m surprised readers suggest that it can. Knowing the year Martin Luther King was killed, or the atomic weight of iodine, or how to read a financial statement does not interfere with human mating. Being educated about contraception might induce one to try it, that’s true. But it is the contraception itself that lowers the birth rate, not the knowledge of it.

Money cannot lower the birth rate. Higher or lower GDPs cannot lower the birth rate. And again I’m taken aback to see the suggestions that it can. Money is associated with education, it’s true. But education, as shown, cannot lower the birth rate. The bias inhibited in the suggestions money or education could lower birth rates is also surprising: everybody assumes the effect of education must only be in the direction of increased sexual liberty. This is false, as is I hope now obvious.

As I admitted, more than once, the attitudes on sexuality are only correlated with birth rates, but it is surely more than plausible that at least some persons expressing positive support for abortion, contraception, etc. will engage in these acts. If they do, the birth rate goes south.

I also admitted other things could lower the birth rate, but didn’t specify any mechanisms. Disease is one. But since Western countries have lower disease rates than “undeveloped” countries, it is not plausible that disease is what accounts for the decreasing birth rates in the Western world.

War is another cause, indirectly: anything which keeps people from the act of mating can be a cause. Again, lack of opportunity is not plausible in Western countries. It could be that avarice and culture plays a role in, say, keeping men (such as in Japan) staying at the office all hours, reducing the chance of mating. Abstinence lowers birth rates.

Religion cannot cause an increase or decrease in the birth rate, because religion is a form of education. But religious education teaches that the Pew questions, so to speak, are immoral. And if people act on this education by eschewing abortion, contraception, extramarital affairs, divorce, and homosexuality, then the birth rate will tend to increase. And this is what the data shows, or at least strongly suggests.

What really set people off is the remark that certain activities are immoral. “Don’t you tell me what’s right and wrong!” Well, have it your way. But nothing in any of the results change if you want to believe these activities are not immoral.

Update A conversation with statistician Stephen Senn reminded me that improved medicine can increase birth rates by lowering infant mortality. But Western medicine is the best, so the Western rates, if we could conceive of removing the effects of superior medicine, are even lower relative to non-Western rates. He also reminds that some might have fewer children if they expect their existing children will survive. This is so, in part. But since it’s probably not abstinence these confident couples practice, but contraception, this doesn’t change the conclusion that contraception is what causes lower birth rates. How or why contraception is a separate question (Western education tends to encourage its use, while religious education tends to discourage it).

Update See also: Decadence Data: Or, A Doomed Demos Dances.

43 Comments

  1. I see “confirmation bias” indicators in this: Briggs is clearly pro-religion and thus sees the desired correlation.

    However, what jumps out at me is the more immoral countries are also the most properous & well-educated (generally). The ability to have well-funded leisure time coupled with education coupled with access to birth control also explains all the observed trends…with no need to bring in relgion.

    One flaw in the analysis appears to be the acceptance of “proportion Christian” figures — what matters is what proportion of those who self-report being “Christian” actually “practice” their espoused faith by attending church services regularly, or at all. Those figures are available and much much lower.

  2. Briggs

    April 22, 2014 at 9:43 am

    Ken,

    I guess you didn’t read everything I wrote (again). But to summarize your comment:

    The more sexually immoral a culture is, the fewer babies it has.

    Right?

    Plus, of course, the “access to” sexually immoral “services” is part of the definition of Sexual Immorality. So development has nothing to do with it, except that, in the West, as people have more leisure time they tend to leave Christianity. But why? As I said, increasing immorality drives lack of religion, which also drives immorality. Etc.

  3. So if the world population is to be kept at a reasonable level, we need to encourage much more of what you call “sexual immorality”.

    Or “sexual immortality”, as used twice 🙂

  4. Briggs

    April 22, 2014 at 10:13 am

    Paul,

    Very well. Prove to us what is a “reasonable level” of human population.

  5. The future belongs to those that show up for it.

  6. Countries, such as Malaysia Uganda, Kenyan and Pakistan, where polygamy is recognized under civil law marriages have low Sexual Immorality scores.

    “How far from actual sexual immorality is the score? Nobody in the world knows. What makes it science is that this problem is ignored and the score is defined as a “sexual immorality measure.”

    I don’t think there are any surprises in these data.
    “Unless the measurement error is accounted for, which is never is, the conclusions will be far, far too certain.”

    Ha!

  7. Briggs

    April 22, 2014 at 11:04 am

    JH,

    Which is why I said: “There is some error in this, probably to the extent that the best we could do is to approximate Sexual Immorality to only the nearest decimal point. Everything I show are also only crude correlations; causal connections, while plausible in the direction indicated by the correlations, are almost certainly weaker than the correlations.”

    Polygamy is important, but I don’t have a measure of it. Also, polygamy rates, I mean the practice, are usually low. Only the highest status men take multiple wives. It would be interesting to see the birth rates of polygamous compared to monogamous marriages.

  8. (Resubmit with correct html tags, I hope.)

    Countries, such as Malaysia Uganda, Kenyan and Pakistan, where polygamy is recognized under civil law marriages have low Sexual Immorality scores.

    “How far from actual sexual immorality is the score? Nobody in the world knows. What makes it science is that this problem is ignored and the score is defined as a sexual immorality measure.”

    I don’t think there are any surprises in these data.

    “Unless the measurement error is accounted for, which is never is, the conclusions will be far, far too certain.”

    Ha!

  9. Mr. Briggs,

    IOW, no one should take any of your conclusions in this post seriously.

  10. Briggs

    April 22, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    JH,

    Where exactly is the error, JH. Please to show us.

    checkm,

    Amen to that.

  11. Mr. Briggs, do you mean you want me to explain your own usual rhetorical criticism about some social science papers?

  12. Briggs

    April 22, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    JH,

    I’m afraid you’ll have to. You seem to be implying there are errors in the article. What are they?

  13. “Mr. Briggs, do you mean you want me to explain your own usual rhetorical criticism about some social science papers?”
    Bingo. Briggsy well defines Dan Kahan’s research into motivated reasoning.

  14. Briggs

    April 22, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    “Realist”,

    Do you have a comment relevant to the information presented in the article?

  15. Mr. Briggs,

    “Higher numbers meant cultures in which it was more likely to find sexual immoral adults.”
    So, for each country, you basically use the average of the sample portions of people who believe those six items are either acceptable or don’t think they are moral issues as your so-called sexual immorality score.

    If you insist on using the average of the sample proportions as sexual immorality score, you probably should exclude those people who don’t think they are moral issues.

    Why would it be more likely to find sexual immoral adults in a culture with a higher average sample proportion score?

    Ah, you simply know it by just thinking about it under the stars last night. Perhaps this is what it means to say “statistician to the stars!” ^_^

    Statistically, to make this conclusion, (without thinking too much about it), one would need to at least observe some kind number of sexual immoral adults and their beliefs on those items surveyed for each country. Of course, you will need to define what a sexual immoral adult is.

    Well, that’s it for today.

    Busy Tuesdays!

  16. You’ll be posting up p-values next Prof Briggs!

    You continually criticize poorly designed social science papers for ignoring confounding factors etc.

    Is the decline in birthrates anything to do with your measure of sexual morality, or are there other factors – such as income, infant death rates, etc etc – involved which confound the correlations you see.

    Genuinely you can’t see a similarity between your efforts here and the papers you rightly criticize?

    That to me is really really interesting. None so blind as those who will not see!

  17. Briggs

    April 22, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    JH,

    “If you insist on using the average of the sample proportions as sexual immorality score, you probably should exclude those people who don’t think they are moral issues.” Exclude people who don’t think sexual matters are moral issues? Obviously not. Not when the definition of sexual immorality includes those people who do not think sexual matters are not moral issues.

    “Why would it be more likely to find sexual immoral adults in a culture with a higher average sample proportion score?” This is like asking about a voting poll which just announced 80% in favor of candidate X, “Why would it be more likely to find voters in a state who favor candidate X?”

    “Statistically, to make this conclusion, (without thinking too much about it), one would need to at least observe some kind number of sexual immoral adults and their beliefs on those items surveyed for each country. Of course, you will need to define what a sexual immoral adult is.” We can agree about your parenthetical remark at least. The rest of the comment you’ll have to re-write. I can’t make heads or tails of it. You seem to be asking me to do what Pew has already done.

    Chinahand,

    Your point about infant mortality rates backwards. These have everywhere been decreasing. That pushes the birth rates up, not down.

    Nowhere do I claim there are not other factors. I merely say these factors are causally plausible, which, of course, they are. And in fact, most of them are causally provable!

    A couple approving of and therefore using contraception is scarcely likely to have a greater number of children. Same for those who approve of and therefore act homosexually. No kids there. And the same for those who approve of and use abortion. Killing your children not a good way to increase the birth rate.

    And so on.

    Your last comment, the “None so blind as those who will not see!”, appears to be right on the money, though.

  18. Briggs:

    You asked of Paul Matthews, “Very well. Prove to us what is a ‘reasonable level’ of human population.” My answer is: nothing greater than 72 billion, roughly 10 times our present level.

    The text of your article says, “The horizontal line is drawn at the ‘replacement’ Birth Rate. All highly sexually immoral countries (Sexual Immorality 0.7 or higher) have birth rates below replacement levels. Unless these countries make it up by massive immigration, they’ll soon see population deficits.”

    From this I gather that there is therefore also no such thing as an “unreasonable” population level (neither too small nor too large) BUT that anything less than (or perhaps even equal to) zero population growth IS unreasonable. From there, it wouldn’t be a leap to conclude that one immoral quality of homosexuality, abortion, divorce and contraception can be quantified by their tendency to squelch procreative sex.

    That leaves the extramarital sex data as candidates for exclusion from the immorality index (as were gambling and alcohol consumption). Or at least deserving of a separate analysis.

    Moving now from methodology: What do you find so inherently “unreasonable” about zero or negative population growth that you consider it immoral?

    * Proof:
    According to the Internet, as of 2004 there were 2,065 square meters of arable land per person. Subtract 1 m^2 for the area occupied by one standing human and divide that from 149 trillion square meters of land area.

  19. Briggs,

    Note that (1) when a person states that he is in favor of candidate X, it means he is probably going to vote for the candidate, and (2) there are past data on the “voting polls” and “voting results” to verify the conclusion.

    Note that (1) for example, when a person answers that divorce is acceptable or is not a moral issue, it doesn’t imply that he is probably sexual immoral or going to get a divorce (but you believe otherwise) and (2) there are no data on “sexual immoral” but there are data on whether one believes those matters are acceptable in Pew’s survey.

    But you said:

    ”Not when the definition of sexual immorality includes those people who do not think sexual matters are not moral issues.”

    Uh? Confusing multiple negatives!)

    Now I see! People who believe that those sexual matters are not moral issue are declared sexual immoral by you. So are those people who believe some of those sexual matters are acceptable.

    Since I don’t wish to argue for a different definition of “sexual immorality,” I have no further comments, except to say Pew is quite precise in summarizing their survey results as to what exactly has been surveyed, for good reasons.

  20. JH said, “People who believe that those sexual matters are not moral issue are declared sexual immoral by you.”

    That’s how I read it as well.

    “Since I don’t wish to argue for a different definition of ‘sexual immorality,’ I have no further comments … ”

    Why not? Contraceptive use (particularly condoms) is one of the key factors that allows for extramarital sex NOT being a necessarily immoral act. Briggs says both are immoral under any circumstances, and offers reduction in childbirth rates as if to demonstrate the validity of his position. I think that’s a fascinating opening argument.

  21. Briggs

    April 22, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    All,

    Interesting that many want to change the debate to a definition of sexual immorality, as if that would change any of the plots.

    But this ignores the obvious nature of these questions, as I explained to China hand. Please do comment on these implications, too.

  22. Sylvain Allard

    April 22, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    There is a better indicator for the reduction of procreation rates and it is education. The more educated the woman the less baby they have. Or at least the later they have them.

    We are seeing a mini-baby boom here were many women get their first child in their late 30s.

    The USA is an exception in the developed world. White have babies at about the same rate as other white occidental countries but minorities who are less educated have many more babies. Which is seen in the demographic change in the US.

  23. Sylvain Allard

    April 22, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    For China consider the limit on birth to one child if a girl, 2 if boys or something like that.

    Creating a large disparity between male and female and causing a women trafficking trade with North Korea

  24. ““Realist”,
    Do you have a comment relevant to the information presented in the article?”

    No, the operationalisation of variables, statistical analysis and the article itself is a self-evident joke.

    No wonder, fossil fuel funded Willie Soon had to dig deep to come up with a motivated reasoner like yourself to co-author a climate contrarian paper. Without investigating, my guess is it was a fringe journal.
    Oh that’s right, the intellectual nerve centre that is blogs trumps peer review, with referencing of the latter being an appeal to authority anyway. Hence why bother with peer review….. (LOL)

  25. Well, I wasn’t expecting that.

    Moving on… today I read on another blog “Women have, on average, one less child for every four years of education”.

  26. People polled by phone had a mean immorality score of 0.75; those polled face to face scored 0.45. A plausible causative link is that it is easier to set up assignations when you have a phone.

    Similarly, the birthrates were 1.6 and 2.6 respectively. Procreation is thus more successful without incessant interruptions.

  27. Briggs

    April 23, 2014 at 8:07 am

    Rich,

    You know the argument has gone off the cliffs when you have to start making up evidence.

    I’m going to add an update to the post. I had no idea people could reason so very badly when it comes to sexuality.

  28. Shub Niggurath

    April 23, 2014 at 9:13 am

    The rules of organized religion are tuned toward preservation of fertility. The writings of organized religion on sexual immorality are allegorical. Sodom and Gomorrah is an example.

    Philadelphia is the modern day Sodom and Gomorrah. http://blog.heritage.org/2014/04/18/gosnell-movie/

  29. “making up evidence” – I’m shocked, shocked I tell you to be so accused!. I copied your table above and got the polling methods from the Pew site’s methodology description. The rest was just sums. In 10 countries the data was collected by phone; the remaining 30 were done face-to-face.

    http://www.pewglobal.org/files/2014/03/Morality-Survey-Methods-FINAL.pdf – there you go, you can check it yourself. Now, my conclusions were certainly made up. Am I not serious enough?

  30. Briggs

    April 23, 2014 at 9:58 am

    Rich,

    Okay, good point. Apologies. Mixing data sources will increase our uncertainty.

    But your data conclusion suspicious. Phones more available in the West, etc.

  31. Briggs,

    You misrepresent me with your summary, which has nothing in common with my remark.

    Where you’re implying a cause-effect type relationship with Sexual Morality and Birth Rate, you’ve applied essentially the same fundamental data more thoroughly observed/studied with the

    Demographic-Economic Paradox
    (e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographic-economic_paradox
    http://permaculturenews.org/2011/05/16/education-leads-to-lower-fertility-and-increased-prosperity/
    )

    And/or the desire/need to maintain a given prosperous lifestyle is putting more women into the workforce (economically developed countries) and they opt to have fewer children and opt to have children later in life (e.g. http://www.europeaninstitute.org/April-2012/the-fertility-paradox.html:

    “Evidence is overwhelming that when women in traditional societies have education, legal and property rights, and a chance to practice birth control, they seize the opportunity to have fewer children. Where this has happened, birth rates have plummeted in one generation. This has happened all over the globe, from South America to Southeast Asia.”).

    Isn’t that a more reasonable cause-effect link to the lower birth rate trends observed vs religion/morality?

    My point was that your bias to certain topics religious blinds you to your own trip-and-fall into the ‘Correlation-Means-Causality’ error. Or, if you didn’t quite make the error, you sure made a presentation that reinforces it.

    It’s either that, or, you’ve got it right about religion/morality & everybody else that’s been focusing on education & economic wealth (with more women in the professional workforce delaying or opting out entirely of having kids to accommodate a professional career) as the causal factors associated with lowered birth rates in prosperous countries have assessed things wrong.

  32. Briggs

    April 23, 2014 at 11:59 am

    No, Ken. As I proved, showed, demonstrated beyond doubt, education cannot cause a drop in birth rates. Neither can property rights. Good grief, how could they!

    Approval then use of contraception, abortion, etc., etc. can and do cause drops in birth rates. Education can cause approval of sexual license. So can property rights, I suppose. But it’s the approval and use of contraception etc. that causes the drop.

    Now if you don’t reply to this and see something like, “Oh, I get it” I will scream.

  33. Education cannot lower the birth rate, and I’m surprised readers suggest that it can.

    That is, of course, silly. Everyone knows it is female education that lowers the birth rate.

  34. Briggs updated, “I imagine that if I had called ‘Sexual Immorality’ ‘Pew Questions on Reproduction’ there would be a lot less angst. Feelings run high when you tell some people certain behaviors are immoral.”

    Well yeah. Surely this isn’t a surprise?

    “What really set people off is the remark that certain activities are immoral. ‘Don’t you tell me what’s right and wrong!'”

    Or don’t tell me what kind of lightbulbs I can use! (Even when incandescent replacements, particluarly LED bulbs, are more economical to operate over their lifetime.)

    Or don’t tell me what kind of fats I can eat! (Even when the available evidence indicates that eating trans fats is probably a bigger health risk than eating cis fats.)

    “Well, have it your way. But nothing in any of the results change if you want to believe these activities are not immoral.”

    Reality is definitely no respector of belief. Perception of reality often is. (Or so I have perceived … 🙂 )

    “Education cannot lower the birth rate, and I’m surprised readers suggest that it can. Knowing the year Martin Luther King was killed, or the atomic weight of iodine, or how to read a financial statement does not interfere with human mating.”

    Not *directly*. Not nessessarily *indirectly* either, but possibly.

    “Being educated about contraception might induce one to try it, that’s true. But it is the contraception itself that lowers the birth rate, not the knowledge of it.”

    I totally agree.

    “Money cannot lower the birth rate. Higher or lower GDPs cannot lower the birth rate. And again I’m taken aback to see the suggestions that it can. Money is associated with education, it’s true. But education, as shown, cannot lower the birth rate. The bias inhibited in the suggestions money or education could lower birth rates is also surprising: everybody assumes the effect of education must only be in the direction of increased sexual liberty. This is false, as is I hope now obvious.”

    It should be obvious that strong, but not perfect, correlation does not always lead to one, and only one, outcome. Alas, ‘twould not seem to be the norm.

    Since I’m not *everbody* I set out to duplicate your results for myself.

    I took your table from above and pasted it into Excel. I then set birth rate as the dependent variable, and the immorality score as the independent, just as you did. I then added GDP per capita (PPP, 2013 data in 2008 USD from the CIA World Fact Book) as a second independent variable (normalized between 0 and 1 so as to be on the same scale as the immorality index). I then created a scatter plot of both series, used native Excel graph functionality to add linear regression trendlines to both series, and had it display the r-squared values.

    Here are r-squared results:

    GDP: 0.378
    Immorality: 0.402

    Lo and behold, Immorality correlates with birth rate better than GDP.

    “As I admitted, more than once, the attitudes on sexuality are only correlated with birth rates, but it is surely more than plausible that at least some persons expressing positive support for abortion, contraception, etc. will engage in these acts.”

    Mmm hmm, but GDP also correlates with birth rate as others have also pointed out. It just doesn’t correlate as well, as I have just calculated. That doesn’t mean that one side of this debate *must* be wrong — it could be that neither side is asking enough questions. So I asked the data a different one: how well does GDP correlate to immorality?

    The answer: r-squared = 0.647.

    So I propose that the causality chain may be thus: GDP is a predictor of sexual attitudes, sexual attitudes are a predictor of sexual practices, sexual practices are a predictor of birth rate.

    Now in hindsight, this to me is entirely obvious. If true it allows for the possiblity that neither side of this debate is completely wrong.

    “If they do, the birth rate goes south.”

    I ask again, is that necessarily an immoral thing in and of itself? That’s the vibe I’m getting. If my vibe is your reality, why do you say this is so? What do *you* think the implications are?

  35. Yes France won! I bet Holland (not in the list) even beats France.

  36. Shub Niggurath

    April 23, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    It may be that people characterize what they are not good at as not being immoral.

    The French have a problem staying true to their spouses so they don’t see cheating on them as being immoral.

  37. “No, Ken. As I proved, showed, demonstrated beyond doubt, education cannot cause a drop in birth rates. Neither can property rights. Good grief, how could they!”

    Emmanuel Todd is a French historian, anthropologist, demographer, sociologist and political scientist at the National Institute of Demographic Studies, in Paris. Wikipedia

    This guy demonstrated much more strongly the link between literacy and birth rate. Higher education gives women more knowledge and more opportunities, giving them the incentive to be something else than a baby oven.

    Birth rate decreases everywhere the level of literacy is rising.

    ” Approval then use of contraception, abortion, etc., etc. can and do cause drops in birth rates. Education can cause approval of sexual license. So can property rights, I suppose. But it’s the approval and use of contraception etc. that causes the drop.”

    Gays were present in high number in the 1800s when psychiatrist started to categorize and name sexual activities. This was long before it received any approval. Abortion didn’t exist but instead baby were killed at birth.

  38. JH:

    You just don’t get it. Sexual morality = genital mutilation, honor killing, arraigned marriages. The good news is that in these morally superior countries, rape does not exist because all women who claim rape are whores and sluts.

    Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do.

  39. Briggs

    April 25, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    HowardW,

    Congratulations! You’re today’s winner.

    Winner!

  40. I’m pretty sure Howard’s gist was something along the lines of this rather more dispassionate blog post from the Economist: http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2012/09/daily-chart

    There are many such others, with the usual issues of uncertainty baked in: crime definitions vary, rates of crime reporting vary, survey questions probably are not the be-all-end-all-one-size-fits-all indicator of the phenomena being studied, hidden variables … all those “outs” we often use to reject that which doesn’t conform to our perception of what really is … or those issues which we frequently ignore because it confirms what we knew all along.

    Here’s what I believe in my gut, no numbers required: even if atheism and religion vanished overnight, we would still find plenty of reasons to lie, cheat, steal, murder, rape and pillage. Liberals and conservatives would still hate each others’ guts, pundits would still fan their flames with gaseous windbaggery, the poor would still resent the rich and the rich would carry on with impunity, white folk would still feel uncomfortable walking on certain streets after dark and newspaper headlines would still continue to blow the actual risk out of all proportion.

    In other words, I’m pretty sure which tribe we choose to hang with has much to do with who we already were before joining up. Probably requires more than snapshot-in-time surveys to better understand that sort of thing.

  41. Briggs,

    RE: “…But it’s the approval and use of contraception etc. that causes the drop [in birth rate]. … Education can cause approval of sexual license.”

    First, a huge proportion of women & couples choose not to have, or have fewer, children. This choice & follow-on action [or inaction, depending on how one looks at it] is directly proportional to education (& by extension economic prosperity via a variety of intervening mechanisms). This correlation has been observed to be predictive: As a society prospers economically, a reduction in births in proportion to the increase in education levels is repeatedly observed; when one observes the one factor the result is reliably predicted & later observed; if the result is observed the precursor trend is readily found.

    Thus, education is a proxy measure for the underlying series of successive factors [a social chain reaction of actions & reactions of sorts] leading to the observed macro trends (This is directly analogous to the children’s poem about a missing nail leading to the loss of a kingdom, implicit in the statement are a few intervening chain reactions starting with the loss of a rider on horseback — you can’t address the point of the poem by starting with the two end-points in ignorance of everything in between…same goes for the education-to-birth rate trend, there’s much in between [and philosophy will never get you to it]).

    Second, one means of achieving the lower birth rate is contraception — arguably the dominant means — and the majority of Christians, and many Jews, do not find contraception immoral. You indicate you do, consistent with R. Catholic doctrine, which finds it immoral — even though many, perhaps most, practicing Catholics disagree, at least by their actions.

    As you puzzle over: “Interesting that many want to change the debate to a definition of sexual immorality, as if that would change any of the plots”

    Consider,

    You’ve gone out of your way to do an analysis from the most provocative perspective possible [when a value-neutral presentation is readily possible], effectively telling most of your audience that they are immoral.

    Most people don’t like being labeled “immoral” and will [continue to] respond predictably.

  42. Ken:

    “Thus, education is a proxy measure for the underlying series of successive factors [a social chain reaction of actions & reactions of sorts] leading to the observed macro trends …”

    According to Google, Briggs has never used the word “proximal” on his blog. As in proximal vs. ultimate causality. Or, as sociologists say: proximal and distal causality. Of course, proxy and proximal are not the same animal though they begin with the same letters.

    ” … one means of achieving the lower birth rate is contraception — arguably the dominant means — and the majority of Christians, and many Jews, do not find contraception immoral.”

    And yet contraception is one of the least predictive metrics of the bunch. This was so shockingly counterintuitive and unexpected that I crunched the numbers twice just to make sure. It certainly seems to clash with Briggs’ statement, “Being educated about contraception might induce one to try it, that’s true. But it is the contraception itself that lowers the birth rate, not the knowledge of it.”

    What you wrote above helped me untie it. In an otherwise “highly moral” country, contraception is not necessarily immoral, or even considered a moral issue — especially when it is being used in the context of married sex. As designed, the Pew survey wouldn’t pick up those kinds of nuance.

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