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Political Victory: From Here to Maternity

By Phillip Longman
Thursday, September 2, 2004; Page A23

What's the difference between the protesters outside the Republican convention and the delegates inside? There are many, of course, but one will ultimately skew American politics and the culture wars in the Republicans' favor, regardless of who has God or reason on her side. It's the divide between who is having children and who isn't.

Over the past decade, fertility rates among all major American ethnic groups have either remained low or fallen dramatically. Between 1990 and 2002 fertility declined 14 percent among Mexican Americans and 24 percent among Puerto Ricans. African Americans, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, now have a lower average fertility rate than whites, and they are no longer producing enough children to replace their population. But one big difference in fertility rates remains: Conservative, religiously minded Americans are putting far more of their genes into the future than their liberal, secular counterparts.

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In Utah, for example, where 69 percent of all residents are registered members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, fertility rates are the highest in the nation. Utah annually produces 90 children for every 1,000 women of child-bearing age. By comparison, Vermont -- the only state to send a socialist to Congress and the first to embrace gay unions -- produces only 49.

Fertility correlates strongly with religious conviction. In the United States, fully 47 percent of people who attend church weekly say that their ideal family size is three or more children. By contrast, only 27 percent of those who seldom attend church want that many kids.

High fertility also correlates strongly with support for George W. Bush. Of the top 10 most fertile states, all but one voted for Bush in 2000. Among the 17 states that still produce enough children to replace their populations, all but two -- Iowa and Minnesota -- voted for Bush in the last election. Conversely, the least fertile states -- a list that includes Maine, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Connecticut -- went overwhelmingly for Al Gore. Women living in Gore states on average have 12 percent fewer babies than women living in Bush states.

In most coastal cities and states, maternity wards have more and more empty cradles. Between 1990 and 2002, for example, the number of babies born in Los Angeles County dropped by 30 percent, while there was a 14 percent decline in infants in California as a whole. In the mid-Atlantic region and New England, the decline in the number of newborns ranged from 13 percent in Massachusetts to 37 percent in the District of Columbia. But there are 14 states, led by Nevada, Colorado and Idaho, in which the number of births increased substantially over this period. Of these 14 states, all but one voted for Bush in 2000.

In states where Bush won a popular majority in 2000, the average woman bears 2.11 children in her lifetime -- which is enough to replace the population. In states where Gore won a majority of votes in 2000, the average woman bears 1.89 children, which is not enough to avoid population decline. Indeed, if the Gore states seceded from the Bush states and formed a new nation, it would have the same fertility rate, and the same rapidly aging population, as France -- that bastion of "old Europe."

If Gore's America (and presumably John Kerry's) is reproducing at a slower pace than Bush's America, what does this imply for the future? Well, as the comedian Dick Cavett remarked, "If your parents never had children, chances are you won't either." When secular-minded Americans decide to have few if any children, they unwittingly give a strong evolutionary advantage to the other side of the culture divide. Sure, some children who grow up in fundamentalist families will become secularists, and vice versa. But most people, particularly if they have children, wind up with pretty much the same religious and political orientations as their parents. If "Metros" don't start having more children, America's future is "Retro."

The writer, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, is the author of "The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What to Do About It."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company