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August 23, 2012 / JayMan

Another Tale of Two Maps

As I’ve posted elsewhere, I wanted to demonstrate here the strong inverse relationship that exists between population density and fertility rates. As before, this is best done graphically (from Eurostat):



As can be seen here, with a few exceptions (particularly the Low Countries and the UK), there is a strong inverse relationship between population density and total fertility rate (TFR). It even holds in non-European Turkey. This is primarily because when population density is high, cost of living is high, hence having children become an expensive enterprise, in accordance with Steve Sailer’s affordable family formation theory.  These maps have a few caveats, in that—in Western Europe especially—some of this reported fertility comes from non-European immigrants, which is almost certainly the case with the apparently fecund UK, and a good deal the case with purportedly prolific France as well. Indeed, Muslim births seem to be responsible for the high fertility rates seen in the crowded but fecund Low Countries.

However, the pattern holds in East Asia as well—in Japan:

And Taiwan:

(I would have included South Korea as well, but I couldn’t find a map of its TFR broken down by region. I excluded mainland China because of its one-child policy.)

In accordance with my Pioneer Hypothesis, fertility rates in Europe and East Asia are low because these regions are populated by people who do not descend from recent immigrants, having inhabited these areas since ancient times by in large. Hence, natural selection has favored slowly reproducing individuals (who are only marginally “natalist” to even “anti-natalist”), to keep population under control. But, as can be seen, from the above maps, in general, in areas where habitable land is abundant, fertility rates are higher, as the cost of having children is significantly lower.

The main reason fertility has declined in the developed world is not, fundamentally, because of irreligiosity or excessive materialism (those are merely expressions of the underlying mechanism), but as a response to this:


Slow-breeders are simply more sensitive to environmental inputs when it comes to reproduction, and are more easily dissuaded from breeding.

The Pioneer Hypothesis predicts that, in all these countries, if left to their own devices (i.e., without high-fertility immigrants streaming in), fertility will eventually rebound as the land depopulates and cost of living drops (with fast-breeders coming to make up a higher share of the population), as appears to currently be the case in Eastern Europe (see the previous link). Without immigrants, and even with the technological and social upheavals as of late, this process would exist in a stable negative feedback loop (at least for the foreseeable future).  Of course, the quantity of people is a separate issue from their quality, as per the topic of my previous post.

Edit, 9/04/12: See this neat follow-up by The Audacious Epigone.


Leave a Comment
  1. asdf / Aug 24 2012 9:27 AM

    “The main reason fertility has declined in the developed world is not, fundamentally, because of irreligiosity or excessive materialism (those are merely expressions of the underlying mechanism), ”

    I don’t think your post justifies this statement. Let’s look at AE stats:

    I’m not sure how we look at that first graph and come to a different conclusion. Nor how this analysis refutes it.

    I can buy that crowding is a factor, but I see little evidence it refutes the religious assertion. I read your pioneer post. Unless you can show that there is no religious/atheist fertility divide within similar geographic areas with other variables constant then I’m not sure I buy it.

    • asdf / Aug 24 2012 9:28 AM

      Some would also posit that the specific religion matters: say reform Jew (low fertility) versus Mormon (high fertility). But I won’t burden you with too many statistical demands.

    • JayMan / Aug 24 2012 10:18 AM

      The error in your logic is that you’re not realizing that religiosity (and political attitudes) are themselves qualities individuals possess—heritable qualities.

      I am not in contention with the point that religiosity and conservativism are associated with higher fertility. But it’s important to keep in mind that religiosity and political attitudes are heritable, just like most things. Religious, conservative White Americans have more children because they have “pro-natalist” attitudes, and “pro-natalist” attitudes, and things associated with it, such as religiosity and conservativism, have been selected for during the colonization of the American frontier. These attitudes are, to good degree, inborn.

      Simply encouraging more religion (even if that were possible) won’t cause people to breed more—these attitudes are innate to the people who possess them. Liberals and secular Whites breed less because secularism, liberalism, and slow-breeding were selected for in pre-modern Europe. You can’t separate one from the other.

      The behavior you see is what happens when people with these attitudes are subjected to today’s environment. Slow-breeding Whites are materialistic and less child-centric, and hence have less children. Fast-breeders are more spiritual and more child and family-centric, and hence have more children.

      As time goes on, if patterns remain unchanged, American Whites will become more religious and more conservative since they have a distinct fertility advantage.

    • asdf / Aug 24 2012 11:40 AM

      I don’t think I’m in dispute with this comment*, it just doesn’t address the question. Your post contends that religion and fertility are not “primarily” correlated, that it is just a byproduct of religious people living in cheaper areas. I dispute this claim, and assert that religion does matter independent of area of living.

      *I’m not sure that promoting religion wouldn’t have a positive effect on peoples religious orientation and their fertility. While inborn genetic leanings are important, people respond to their environment as well. Most people I know just go with what authorities say. If authorities told them to have more children and be more religious they would. Currently they are not since liberalism is the predominant authority. Most other ideologies today are so weak they might better be called less liberal then something onto themselves.

      That said I don’t think there is a good way to prove what effect it would have one way or another. Short of a total change in modern elites who are overwhelmingly liberal, and I don’t see that happening.

  2. Dan / Aug 24 2012 5:21 PM

    A simply terrific post. One of your best. So much data. Such beautiful maps. Wonderful. Three thumbs up.

    Of course we all know that density and religiosity are two independently important variables for fertility. As for some people being naturally ‘low breeders’, I wouldn’t agree at all.

    I think most every healthy person is biologically designed to have far above replacement fertility if circumstances allow. Some truncate their biology with birth control while others do not.

    As for Europeans being ‘selected for’ low natality, I don’t think this is true at all. Up until the modern era Europeans had plenty of kids and many died young.

    Consider that those same ‘slow breeding’ Europeans were having an average of like 7 kids per woman from the moment they arrived in America.

    • JayMan / Aug 25 2012 10:23 AM

      Thank you!

      I think most every healthy person is biologically designed to have far above replacement fertility if circumstances allow.

      Not every. Remember, differential reproduction (and differential mortality) is the meat and guts of evolution.

      As for Europeans being ‘selected for’ low natality, I don’t think this is true at all. Up until the modern era Europeans had plenty of kids and many died young.

      That is true, but remember, behavioral traits are a product of genotype and environment. In an environment with lower effective cost of living and no birth control (other than abstinence), fertility of all individuals, broadly, would be higher, slow-breeders and fast-breeders (survivability however is a different story; in pre-modern times, fast-breeders would have had equal or fewer surviving offspring than slow-breeders; this is why slow-breeders were selected for in the first place). Imagine that “natality” exist on a distribution, with secular liberals being on the low end and pious conservatives on the high side. Imagine then that the number of children born is product of “natality” times some environmental factor. If we adjust that environmental factor up or down, the average number of children had by each group will go up or down accordingly—like a rising tide lifting all boats. Those with taller boats however will stick up higher regardless of the height of the tide. If the tide goes out enough, some might sink below the dock line and have no children at all. It’s the same concept here.

      Consider that those same ‘slow breeding’ Europeans were having an average of like 7 kids per woman from the moment they arrived in America.

      Right, and this is exactly why fast-breeders were selected for in America. Whereas the average slow-breeding more secular family might have say 4 or 5 children, the average pious fast-breeding family would have had 9 or 10 surviving kids. In each successive generation faster breeders would simply expand outward into the abundant land, and would easily come to numerically dominate their slow-breeding compatriots over time. Repeat that for 13 or so generations, and you will see how Americans became, with respect to Europe, more conservative, more religious, and more “natalist” over time, especially as you go South and West away from the original settlements.

  3. Anon666 / Aug 25 2012 4:26 PM

    I don’t think your maps indicate such a correlation. Not only are the Netherlands and England both high fertility and population density, but Spain, the Balkans and the Baltics are both low fertility and population density.

    There is a stronger correlation between female participation rates within the workforce and fertility rates within Europe. Within a non-agricultural setting, dual income helps.

    I also don’t believe that either religions or secular ideologies impact behavior. Incentives do.

    • JayMan / Aug 25 2012 4:41 PM

      Ummm, Muslims?

      In any case, I never claimed that the relationship was perfect. But the overall pattern is evident.

    • Mark / Sep 15 2012 9:20 PM

      The native populations of the Netherlands, Great Britain and France all have relatively high fertility, even without the Muslim boost, though I am not arguing that your pattern doesn’t hold in general.

    • JayMan / Dec 3 2012 1:11 PM

      Are you sure about that? All the evidence I can thus far find on native fertility in these countries indicates that it’s far lower than that of non-native groups…

    • Dan / Aug 27 2012 7:04 AM

      “I also don’t believe that either religions or secular ideologies impact behavior.”

      The data say otherwise. Consider that Ultraorthodox Jews *average* between 6 and 8 children in America and the UK and Israel. Secular liberal Jews average nearer to 1 child per woman in the US and the UK, and around 2 in Israel (but then a ‘secular’ Jew in Israel is still more religious than one in the US).

      Same incentives, same countries, different religiousity, massive difference in fertility.

      Here in the D.C. area, by wife knows an orthodox Jewish man with a gaggle of kids because our children play together at the local nature center and parks on weekdays. He is a stay at home dad, his wife has a high powered career with some agency or lobbying group or something. So its not simply about keeping women oppressed in the kitchen.

      I don’t know why some people continue to imagine ideology has nothing to do with fertility. Having children is at the core of many religious faiths. Meanwhile atheists are famously infertile, on average.

      The religiosity of low BR Italy and Spain hides the secularism of the youth.

      Yes, yes, there are many factors and incentives and ‘space’ are factors as well. But it is silly to say that just because you can find another second factor, a first factor needs to be removed from your mind.

    • Janon / Aug 28 2012 1:16 AM

      Did the Orthodox wife’s high-powered career require a lengthy high-powered education? Do the parents have similar expectations of success for their children? Paying for the higher education of that gaggle of kids may diminish the parents’ enthusiasm for their large family. The kids, if they aren’t able to achieve material success, may choose not to burden themselves with as many children. The ultra-Orthodox are more willing than the modern Orthodox to endure poverty for the sake of large families, but I suspect that even they have their limits.

  4. panjoomby / Aug 25 2012 6:20 PM

    excellent work – you have one of the few blogs that would survive peer-review! thank you for your amazingly thoughtful & thought-provoking output. if you’re an academic, you’re one of the few good ones in the field.

  5. FredR / Aug 28 2012 10:44 AM

    Virginia Abernethy has an interesting paper pushing a fertility-opportunity connection. Richard Easterlin pushed something like this in his Birth and Fortune as well, although my impression is that academically he didn’t get much traction.

  6. Hail / Oct 10 2012 1:54 PM

    In Europe’s case, civilizational self-confidence is a factor.

    Fertility is in the doldrums all across Germany. Wealthy parts, poor parts, dense parts, rural parts, Catholic parts, Protestant parts. Everywhere on that map it’s is in the same narrow band of very-low fertility. Why? A reasonable guess: 1945 casts a long, and dark, shadow.

    See here: Women’s Ideal number of children by age and country


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