Why Mormons Will Inherit America

by: FireTag

December 8, 2012

Well, not really. However, with recent reports that the US birthrate has fallen to a level not seen since 1920, one starts to speculate. As Pew’s research organization reports:

“The U.S. birth rate dipped in 2011 to the lowest ever recorded, led by a plunge in births to immigrant women since the onset of the Great Recession.

The overall U.S. birth rate, which is the annual number of births per 1,000 women in the prime childbearing ages of 15 to 44, declined 8% from 2007 to 2010. The birth rate for U.S.-born women decreased 6% during these years, but the birth rate for foreign-born women plunged 14%—more than it had declined over the entire 1990-2007 period. The birth rate for Mexican immigrant women fell even more, by 23%.”

Pew makes the point (and the pundits have amplified) that the timing of the drop, as well as drops in earlier economic downturns, suggests a direct connection between birthrates and economics. It might be reversed — at least somewhat — if the developed country economies improve, but if we have a “lost decade” or decades, then it will certainly have demographic impacts on the composition of the American population.

Earlier this week, Andrew S started a discussion that, among other things, touched on how changes in cultural views about children within the goals of marriage seem to be leading to drastic differences in American demographics. And to the extent that demography is destiny, we can anticipate very different challenges for the future than we spend so much time debating today.

The emphasis of Mormonism on “multiplying” may have a lot going for it as an evolutionary strategy; New Scientist had a special issue on humanity’s future in deep time some months ago that suggested that evolution doesn’t care about quality of one’s offspring as long as lots of them survive to have offspring of their own. The future of humanity may not belong to either the smart or the powerful or the righteous as much as those who have many children.

And Mormons are having many children, as noted by Lee Davidson in a 2001 article:

WASHINGTON — Utah women again labored to the highest birthrate — by far — among the states in 1999, according to federal data released Tuesday…

That may result from values of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to which a majority of Utahns belong. It puts a premium on family life and keeping child-bearing within marriages…

The new federal study reported that Utah’s “fertility rate” — the number of live births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 — was 93.1. That is 41 percent higher than the national average of 65.9. The next highest fertility rate among the states was 81.1 in Arizona…”

However, I’m less concerned with that long a view of the future here as much as I am concerned with looking at things over a couple of generations. And here I am struck less by the cultural choices that influence societal evolution than I am in the persistence of economics and technology evolution that also drive society’s path.

Many Mormons are somewhat familiar with Mayan archaeology because of its relationship to the Book of Mormon historicity debate. One thing scientists know about the Mayans is that there is a distinct pattern of cities rising and declining on time scales less than a couple of centuries. For example, post-classic cities tend to appear well to the north and east of the great classic sites.

What is interesting to me is that the same kind of shift can be seen in the United States census data, so that major cities grow and decline in as little as 50 years. Wikipedia summarizes this data in a list of the ten largest cities in population by decade. It’s useful to compare the list in 1960 to 2010:

City                1960 Pop in thousands        Rank            2010 Pop        Rank    2010/1960 Pop

New York             7782                                 1                    8175             1                 1.05
Chicago               3550                                 2                    2696             3                  0.76
Los Angeles         2479                                 3                    3793             2                  1.53
Philadelphia         2003                                 4                    1526             5                  0.76
Detroit                 1670                                5                      707            18                 0.42 (2011)
Baltimore               939                               6                       621           24                  0.66
Houston                 938                               7                     2099             4                  2.24
Cleveland              876                               8                       394            47                 0.45 (2011)
Washington           764                               9                       618            25                  0.81 (2011)
St. Louis                750                             10                       319            58                 0.43


It is clear from the chart above that these changes in city fortunes are occurring on scales too short to reflect changes in birth or death rates, but too long to reflect even prolonged freezing of normal modern business cycles. Four of the largest US cities in 1960 have lost at least 1/4 of their population by 2010, with two more nearly there, despite an explosion in US national population concurrently. If we look back to 1860, only New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, St. Louis and Chicago then held top 10 status, and St. Louis and Chicago didn’t have it in 1810.

If we look back to the Maya, we see that migrations occurred as economic bases for the cities changed due to external factors, whether climate, access to or demand for resources, or some other factor. Mormons ought to appreciate the value of migrations, even if there is an expectation of not having to do it in hand carts. It may even be that the ability to pack up and transplant oneself into a pre-existing community of like-minded people will turn out to have more benefit for the thriving of Mormonism than the raw numbers of children “born in covenant”.

Because it certainly seems that the ability to migrate within or across the administrative boundaries set by governments seems to explain a lot about which cities thrive and which do not. (In anticipation of later comments, I note here for the record that it is not easy to explain the different fates of cities like Baltimore and Houston over the past 50 years by focusing on who moves in; it might be more a matter instead  of who gets trapped behind when the technological/economic bases for the city’s explosive growth are OBE.) This does not always imply migrations to other regions; migrations to the suburbs, or even into urban enclaves of compatible ethnicity, race, or class can instead be important if they are accompanied by separation of economic and political power bases so each enclave can hold its own.

We often postulate that many of today’s urban problems are due to “white flight”, but as I noted here, this is a more complex issue that has been repeated with different characters — like a Battlestar Galactica riff that “has all happened before and will all happen again.

“Families retaining the financial means to do so sold out and moved elsewhere. Those left behind saw their upward mobility blocked by events for which they could not be blamed and probably didn’t understand. Then, in addition to local geography turning against them, great social movements both in the United States and in Europe conspired to magnify their pain. With property values collapsed, the Five Points became a magnet for both the honest poor and for those who saw opportunity to prey upon them. As slavery was ended in New York by1827, newly liberated African-Americans flocked there. They were joined by a growing number of Irish emigrants in a wave that reached its peak in the 1840′s during the Great Potato Famine that killed a million Irish and led a million more to flee Ireland.

“Even by 1832, population density, poverty, and lack of sanitation had made the Five Points a source of a cholera epidemic. Not understanding the disease’s connection to sanitation, cholera was attributed in the popular mind largely to vice. And the vice certainly became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Violence within the “community” became unimaginably savage as it splintered into anti-Catholic “nativist”, Irish immigrant, and African-American factions of competing agendas and shifting alliances. Gangs formed around strongmen who could offer some protection because of their capacity to organize violence or deliver voting blocs to political machines such as that of Boss Tweed. The machines, in turn, were seeking control of the larger city and even drew power from the state and the national agendas.”

Just as it happened in New York during the civil war, it happened in New York when I lived there in the 1970s. Generosity in the 1960s without the “rainy day” savings to pay for promises led to financial collapse for the City and a Federal bailout. The city did recover, but the hardships were again concentrated on the poor in places like the South Bronx. I will always remember having a visiting Seventy come from Independence to “help us” (all 8-12 of us who were the RLDS congregation in Manhattan then) in building up the church there. Although I am sure his heart was in the right place, I told him I’d be happy to listen to his programmatic plans if he’d first take a subway ride around the city with me. As we rode the elevated lines past block after block after block of boarded up or burned out buildings surrounding block after block after block where the buildings had been razed to the ground, he began to realize that the soil was a bit hard for planting seeds of the gospel there through any organized program. Through following the Spirit, one might be led to opportunities for ministry if you were willing to pay sufficient price of sacrifice, but your heart would be consumed before the needs were satisfied.

To this day, I believe there are special crowns in heaven for those with the spiritual strength to keep making such sacrifices for any significant length of time. And I believe there is a special place in a much less, um,  prominent glory for those who prey on the hopes of those trapped in the crises of collapsing societies by claiming to “do good” when their real interest is in “doing well” in terms of economic, political, or personal power.

I can give examples for several of the declining cities in the top 10 list above of the extent of corruption there as elites fight for their shares of the cities’ declining resources, but for restrictions on length, let me simply pick the city in most rapid decline and in which I was born: Detroit.

As summarized by Walter Meade here:

“Few readers will be surprised to learn that decades of incompetence and entrenched corruption in Detroit’s government have not only helped wreck the city; firms linked to former Democratic mayor Kwame Kilpatrick also looted the pension fund…

Kilpatrick’s partner in slime is his ex-college frat brother Jeffrey Beasley, who is accused of taking bribes and kickbacks as he made bad investments that cost pension funds $84 million.  Overall, a Detroit Free Press investigation estimates that corrupt and incompetent trustees appointed by Democratic officials over many years in Detroit are responsible for almost half a billion dollars in investments gone wrong…

The ultimate victims of the crime are Detroit’s poor and the middle class and lower middle class, mostly African-American municipal workers who may face serious financial losses in old age.

The 41 year old Kwame Kilpatrick may well be the worst and most destructive American of his generation; his two terms as Mayor of Detroit are among the most sordid and stomach churning episodes in the storied history of American municipal corruption. Now under federal indictment for, essentially, running Detroit City Hall as a criminal enterprise, Kilpatrick reportedly turned down a plea bargain that included a 15 year prison term. Insiders say that since the maximum time for the charges he faces was 18 years, the offer from the prosecutors indicates strong confidence in their case. Indicted with him was his father; it’s nice to think that father and son will have some quality time in the can.”

Having lots of children like Mormons do may not always be a winning evolutionary strategy. But becoming a parasite so virulent that you kill all your potential hosts before you can reproduce yourself is definitely an evolutionary dead end for both the parasite and for hosts who don’t learn to flee the parasite. Think of evolution as God’s justice in action.

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7 Responses to Why Mormons Will Inherit America

  1. Henry on December 8, 2012 at 8:52 PM

    Firetag, you are a heck of alot smarter than I am!

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  2. Charity on December 9, 2012 at 3:19 PM

    Thank you for writing about this topic.
    I have witnessed too many hopelessly poor inner city poor. They continue to vote for candidates who make empty promises of “free” lunch, housing, income, only to be disappointed by rising costs and obstacles and regulations. The despair is growing into the middle class who are becoming wards of the government, too. I can see that the fear of trying to raise children with less funds and exponential living costs as well as the price of college education are hindrances to having many children in a family. Thanks for your thoughts on this.

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  3. Hedgehog on December 10, 2012 at 6:31 AM

    Continuing from the comments I made on Andrew’s post introducing the topic: the economic angle is an interesting one. Britain has actually seen a boom in birthrates over the preceding decade, and the following suggests that this is because of additional government support provided to families with children: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-13809280 and describes it as an unintended consequence of Tony Blair’s government’s policies that were designed to eradicate child poverty. Local governments are now having to grapple with finding more school places: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-16486747 , when previously they had been closing schools. It will be interesting to see what effect the financial mess we have now will have over current decade.

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  4. FireTag on December 10, 2012 at 10:49 AM


    The points in the links are fascinating, and I would really like to see what happened after 2008 in Merry Old England. I found the “unintended consequences” effect particularly in comparison to the EU policies DESIGNED to promote fertility.

    I particularly liked this one from your first link:

    “One aspect of the [British] reforms, though, did seem to have a significant impact on people’s decision to have more children – working family tax credits (WTFC). One study found that the payments increased the fertility of women in couples by 10%. Why? The money was expected to encourage mums back to work. Instead, they were staying at home and having another baby.

    “This difference may be explained by the fact that eligibility for the WTFC depended on one of the couple working: many women in couples found that the WTFC increased family income without providing any incentive to enter the labour force, and may even have enabled them to drop out of the labour force in response to their partner’s increased earnings.”

    So, more income directly for not-working increased the desire for women to be with their children about 10% of the time, and 30 years from now that will help pay the benefits programs — like the WFTC — PROVIDED those kids enter the labor force instead of staying home and raising kids. Complicated.

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  5. Hedgehog on December 11, 2012 at 2:04 AM

    Isn’t it.

    What the article doesn’t mention are more specific details on the WFTC – it increased with number of children, and also included a significant sum to assist with childcare costs where both were working parents. It is possible that couples decided to have more children, both because WFTC boosted the income whilst only one was working, and because once the other parent decided to return to working the cost of childcare (a hefty sum per child) was seen as less of an issue than it would otherwise have been.

    The charts in the article do stop at 2008, though I don’t believe there was any drop off at that point. It is only beginning this year and next that WFTC and other child-related benefits are to be cut severely. Prior to the cuts WFTC will have provided some cushioning from the pay freezes or cuts resulting from the crash, provided one parent was in full-time work. There was some warning beforehand from the new government that changes were on the cards however.

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  6. Hedgehog on December 11, 2012 at 2:12 AM

    Oh, and rereading your opening paragraph made me laugh, 1920 apparently being Britains biggest ever baby boom: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16853368 . There are some comments in the discussion that follows as to whether that particular boom is playing into the subsequent booms.

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  7. FireTag on December 11, 2012 at 7:37 PM


    I wonder if the differing relative casualty rates for Brits and Americans in WW1 led to a lot of British baby-making in 1920. I also know that the timing of economic difficulties in the 1920s were different on the two shores of the Atlantic. Maybe I should look into that more.

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