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Why don't you mention Mexico and South America out of your analysis of birth rates in predominantly Catholic countries? Have rates declined there too? If so, how much?


"Dude" The internet is handy for answering questions. Here is a nation by nation birthrate comparison that you might find interesting:



Becker's essay triggers a consideration of what the public interest should be in the traditions of our many religions and sects. I suppose the general public might be concerned about an extraordinary birth rate among Catholics, Mormons or others, and especially so in a democracy if religionists were seen to favor imposing their tenets on society as a whole.

But as Becker's data demonstrates the birthrate has fallen back to be nearly in line with the population as a whole. While religion clearly plays a strong role in the crafting of our legislation

(Is it the tenets of vengeance, punishment an "eye for an eye" that has us responding to the sicknesses of addiction as a crime, for example, and locking our fellow citizens up at rates 10 times that of European nations?)

but the bulwark against establishing religion or adopting tenets as law is likely our Constitution and courts rather than a matter of being overrun by a majority.

Perhaps it would be of help to (perhaps "out of it") Catholic theologians to consider that The Pill is by far the contraceptive choice of most couples while the primary role of condoms has become that of responsible public health and particularly so in areas such as Africa where the battle against the AIDS epidemic is not only crucial and humane for Africans but for people of all nations.

Thus it is of concern to the public in general that any organization be it religious or secular opt to subvert public health policies and costly efforts to contain the epidemic spread of often fatal disease.

Given that non-marital sex is as common among the religious as others how can the theological "sweet spot" be that of chancing death, the spreading of a deadly epidemic and unplanned pregnancies that often lead to abortion, and in some quarters, death from attempted abortions, over an archaic proscription against contraception?

Can we ask the same of the many Protestants who seem to oppose some form of health care delivery that includes all and adds to the costs of healthcare with poorer outcomes than in nations in which H/C is a universal right?


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Phil Atley

What constitutes being "Catholic"? The last 40 years or so have witnessed an internal schism within Catholicism. Whereas in the past those who dissent from and refuse to practice Catholic beliefs would have been confronted with their refusal and excommunicated, in recent decades they have stayed "within" the visible Church and claimed to be fully Catholic, effectively saying that the pope is wrong and they are right.

Sociologically speaking, are these people adherents or are they not? Obviously something of both.

If one controls for depth of commitment to Catholic faith, one finds a very small Catholic population that does have large families. It is this segment that is growing while those who dissent are not reproducing. Demographically, two generations from now, the entire Catholic population may be smaller, since the dissenters will finally give up on trying to change the Church and drift away while those who accept the faith fully will have grown significantly by natural increase (and by converts as Protestantism fades away, having lost it's raison d'etre in many ways).

Taking account of these factors is certainly not easily done, but unless one takes account of them, one's conclusions are soft.

Phil Atley

Professor Becker wrote:
"That the economic and other incentives in modern technologically advanced economies induced many Catholics to violate Church teachings on use of contraceptives, divorce, sex outside of marriage, and in other family areas may have profound implications for the evolution of Church doctrines on these and related questions."

Induce? Yes, probably that's a fair word to use. And I'm sure that's the way it seems from the outside. But there's the egg and then there's the chicken. Do economics cause behavior or do changes in belief induce people to accede to economic developments?

The de facto use of contraception by "Catholics" has been explained as having originated in a doctrinal "softening" carried out as deliberate policy in a series of workshops funded by the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations with the cooperation of leading Catholics like Ted Hesburgh at Notre Dame. The expectation was created that the Church's teaching would change. When it did not, once more an ideological reaction (full-page ads in secular newspapers defying the teaching, led by theologians, priests, nuns) preceded the acquiescence of lay Catholics to contraception. This degree of use of public opinion pressure to try to change church teaching was new. It led to a de facto schism within the Church over the past 40 years. The dissenters have, however, lost the religious and theological battle. They are not producing significant next-generation followers, the future lies with a new generation of priests and laity who accept the Church's teaching. This is not visible to outsiders yet but it is a pretty obvious fact for those within the Church who observe things carefully. The election of Archbishop Dolan over the conventional elevation of the vice-president to president of the USCCB two weeks ago was an indication that the pro-traditional teaching segment of the bishops has now reached roughly 50 percent of the bishops. Ten years ago it was about 1/3.

The economic inducements were certainly real, but without the softening up of religious adherence and the schism within the Church, the widespread acceptance of contraception by "Catholics" would never have occurred.

Professor Becker also wrote:

"Perhaps the limited exception to the Church’s ban on use of contraceptives that Pope Benedict has apparently granted to male prostitutes is the beginning of a dialogue among the leaders of the Catholic Church on how best to respond to the obvious conflict in contraception use and other sexual and family decisions between traditional Church doctrines and the actual behavior of the vast majority of Catholics."

Benedict did not approve of use of contraception. The mainstream media reporting was distorted. Homosexuals using condoms are not and cannot be contracepting. The homosexual act is itself contraceptive and cannot not be contraceptive. That act is still morally wrong. Precisely because the male prostitute's use of a condom is not contraceptive but be HIV-preventative, the pope merely said that were a male prostitute to use a condom, it would be a baby-step toward "moralization." He did not say that a male prostitute uses a condom in that instance "moraly" or "justifiably." He simply said that such use would show that the male prostitute, while doing an immoral and contraceptive act, has a glimmer of moral concern for the other in trying to prevent spread of HIV.

The pope preceded that remark by noting that condoms are not all that effective against HIV.

Nowhere did the pope say anything that implies ANY change whatsoever on the Church's opposition to contraception.

The fallacy is in equating condom use with contraception. When heterosexuals use condoms, they contracept. When homosexual men use condoms, the condom us does not contracept, the very act already was contraceptive.

Condom use does not in all instances = contraception. A condom can be used as a canteen in military survival kits. I can make a water balloon with a condom. Neither act is contraceptive nor is it immoral.

So, the pope approved "condom use," yes--in a very limited way (a baby step toward moralization) but in so doing he did not approve contraception because the condom use he "approved" is non-contraceptive condom use.

The media focused on the condom. The Church's teaching focuses on contraception. The two are not identical.

Phil Atley

A slight correction. I wrote: "Homosexuals using condoms are not and cannot be contracepting."

should have read: "Homosexuals using condoms are not and cannot THEREBY be contracepting."

That is, the use of the condom does not cause contraception because the act with or without condom is contraceptive.


There was once a "Catholic effect" on fertility that defied an economic explanation. Now there is not. Why would one infer from this that economics is the reason for the change, when economics were present both before and after the change?

The falling away of Catholics from the Church is not limited to a falling away concerning the Church's teachings on sexuality morality. The falling way is much deeper, and has little to do with economics. We are living in an age of increasing unbelief. While it is true that few people believe what the Church teaches about contraception, it is also true that fewer and fewer people believe what the Church teaches about the resurrection of Christ either. Is that because they desire more disposable income? I don't think so.


Another point. The Catholic Church and her teachings are singularly beyond materialist or economic explanation. How, for example, can economics explain a vow of poverty? Similarly, celibacy defies any materialist explanation. And that is the very point of the celibacy requirement: celibate priests renounce marriage, which is of this world, for the sake of Kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 19:3-12.) Celibacy also has positive spiritual value that materialism negates. As St. Paul put it, “it is the way of the flesh to war against the spirit” (Galatians 5:17). And so it is no coincidence that Jesus and many of the greatest saints in history – including, among many others, St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Francis -- placed high value on celibacy.

Cadeet Yilmaz

Criticism of one particular church or other value system is to be expected and, to some extent, welcome.

However, what place does the criticism of a system of values that is voluntary have in a blog whose main theme is politico-economic discourse?

Personally, I’d much rather Mr. Becker and Posner expended their considerable intellect analyzing things that are mandatory, such as central planning themes and legislation, not voluntary value systems.


I don't think this is a big factor, but it's worth noting that the effectiveness of the rhythm method has skyrocketed with body core temperature monitoring and better cycle metrics. Not recommending it, and I doubt it's causing the effect, but it's much better than it used to be.


Mr. Becker's use of the term "rhythm" betrays how off-the-top-of-his-head his post is.

The "rhythm" method has been obsolete since the late 1960s. The various methods practiced since then have a 99% method effectiveness, are completely reversible (that is, you can use them to get pregnant or avoid getting pregnant), have no adverse health risks and in fact help a woman know her body better, are not in violation of the natural moral law, and build human virtues and strong marriages (divorce among couples who use "natural family planning" (the correct umbrella term) is almost non-existent).


Cadeet asks: "However, what place does the criticism of a system of values that is voluntary have in a blog whose main theme is politico-economic discourse?"

As the members of the "voluntary" "system of values" are also members of our economic and political base, it seems difficult to separate them. Obviously in the US our founders gave broad latitude worship as individuals please which has led to tolerance and even an embrace of diversity of religions here.

But! such tolerance is not absolute as we've seen in recent (five decades?) sexual perversions involving minors and other criminal acts including financial corruption in some sects. Today we can hardly pick up a paper w/o reading of some "concern" about what those of Islam "believe" and speculation as to whether some significant fraction pose a danger to society in general.

Surely, the Catholic Church's position on, at min, condom use in a nation ravaged by an AID's epidemic is of concern to society at large.

Cadeet Yilmaz

Oh I see. Given the fact that Catholicism entails some voluntary aspects which are detrimental to society at large, we should strive to either mold the religion into a shape that is optimal for the individual’s overall happiness or, if not, at least discourage overall expansion of such religion.

We should indeed include religious aspects into some overall “quality of life index” and strive as a society to maximize this overall index through a set of subsidies for those beliefs that improve the index and taxes, or other soft forms of coercion on those beliefs which a consensus of decision making experts deem as being detrimental to the index.


Cadeet rhetorically "inquires" "Oh I see. Given the fact that Catholicism entails some voluntary aspects which are detrimental to society at large, we should strive to either mold the religion into a shape that is optimal for the individual’s overall happiness or, if not, at least discourage overall expansion of such religion."

.......... not sure. While such was surely of concern to our founders, they being largely Deists and often members of non-denominational Masonic Lodge, I suspect they thought religious freedom mostly meant freedom within one's church and home, though the common denominator of "eye for eye" punitive vengeance surely played a role in our, today, stats of locking our own people up at ten times the rate of the less religious and seemingly more civilized nations.

I kinda like the teachings of Jesus, but don't recall if there were areas wherein he favored "voluntary aspects... detrimental to society at large".

BTW, with M/E punishments being SO harsh both then and now, do you suppose that the biblical "eye for an eye" was a call for LESSER more appropriate sentencing?


Cadeet is against democracy. In a democracy, it is the people who should decide which religion they want. Our political leaders have a mandate to promote the values of the religion that the majority favors (including atheism if that is the religion that gathers the most votes). The minority should do what the majority decides. Otherwise what kind of a democracy is this? The majority should not be subject to the negative externalities of ideological minorities.

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