How does affiliation with different Christian denominations influence fertility? In a study1 from a Christian high-fertility area in Mozambique, Victor Agadjanian and Scott Yabiku examine fertility from two perspectives: dynamically, by looking at risks of births in any given year, and cumulatively, by the number of children ever born versus length of membership in a denomination.
By Nicola Turner
A large part of Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is Christian, but it contains a huge variety of Christian denominations. How does fertility vary in this diversity of churches? Agadjanian and Yabiku used survey data from Chibuto, a predominantly Christian and high-fertility district in southern Mozambique, to examine how women’s affiliation with a particular denomination might affect fertility. They examined likelihood of giving birth in a given year using retrospective church membership and child-bearing data, and also the number of children ever born (mean number of children, both surviving and dead) versus long-term denominational experience. This unique approach improves our understanding of the relation between religion and fertility, and the place of religion in the demographic processes in SSA.
Chibuto District is a landlocked, mainly rural area of 5,650 km2 in Mozambique’s Gaza Province, with about 200,000 residents. Chibuto is overwhelmingly Christian with a high level of religious membership and denominational diversity; there is one religious congregation for every 150-200 district residents. Although a high fertility area, signs of gradual decline in Total Fertility Rate (TFR) were observed in Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS). In the Gaza Province, TFR decreased from 5.9 to 5.4 between 1997 and 2003, but with only slight reduction to 5.3 in 2011. Use of modern contraception, however, increased markedly from 1.8% in 1997, to 14.4% in 2003 and 18.2% in 2011. These figures suggest that, despite increasing access to contraception, desired family size remains high.
Most studies of fertility and type of Christian denomination in SSA focused solely on Catholic and Protestant influences, often lumping smaller Christian groups into one or the other. However, grouping as either Catholic or Protestant does not allow study of variation in these heterogenous denominations3. In Part 2 of this blog series, differences in fertility between Catholic and Protestant followers were small and inconsistent, and any interesting results from more intense “spirit-type” churches would have been obscured. Agadjanian and Yabiku compare five denominational groups in Chibuto: Roman Catholics, mainline Protestants, Apostolics, Pentecostals (reference group), as well as Zionists (who are Jewish rather than Christian, but culturally more similar to Christians than other religions).
The authors studied 2019 women (age 18-50) in 2008 from 82 clusters in the area. The study lacked data on degree of religiosity, contraceptive use and wealth changes. However, in rural and small-town settings, such as in this study, religiosity is relatively high, as women associated with a specific religion are usually also involved in religious activities including church attendance and prayers. Those who were not involved in religious activities were unlikely to associate themselves with a particular religion. Likewise, there was little evidence that economic characteristics played a role in this early demographic transitional setting. In addition, no denomination histories on partners of the participants were recorded, making it impossible to determine their influence on fertility. Nevertheless, the study does take into account education, and studies in similar settings showed that education is a strong predictor of fertility4.
Members of Apostolic Churches had the highest net risk of birth in any given year and the highest number of children ever born (3.84), regardless of other factors. Pentecostals had the lowest (3.39), 13% fewer than Apostolics. Mainline Protestants and Zionists had the same number (3.54) and Catholics slightly lower (3.47). In addition, some variation could be explained by age, education, residential setting (rural/urban) and marital history.
Apostolicism in Africa was founded on early native resistance to foreign divinities and therefore characterised by a mixture of Christian and traditional African religious elements5. These churches strongly promote high fertility and early marriage, and contraception is believed to be against God’s Commandment. Gender inequality is prominent and polygyny is justified, taking away women’s decision-making rights, particularly in relation to contraceptive use. One Apostolic leader explained that men carry the seed that God gave to them in abundance and therefore it is their duty to sow it5. This emphasis on high fertility explains the high fertility among Apostolics compared with other Christian denominations. Another study6 in Eswatini obtained similar results: the number of children ever born was considerably higher (3.07) among followers of Apostolic Churches than among other Christian denominations (e.g. 2.48 for Pentecostals and 2.39 for Protestants).
In Chibuto, Apostolic Churches had higher levels of institutional commitment and social cohesion than other denominations, which might reinforce the pro-natalist and patriarchal attitudes. Such social commitments are comparable to another high fertility religious group with similar characteristics, the Mormons in the US7. Similar to the Apostolics, the Mormons display a strong pro-natalist sub-culture, with intensive involvement in church activities, and a patriarchal norm.
Affiliation with the Catholic Church showed no difference in the likelihood of birth in any given year when compared to the reference group (Pentecostals). However, the share of reproductive life spent affiliated with the Catholic Church showed that the longer time spent in the Catholic Church, the higher the number of children ever born (even if marginally significant). Previous studies by Agadjanian revealed that Catholics and mainline Protestants were ahead of other denominations in modern contraceptive use which explains the only marginal fertility difference between them8,9. Contrastingly, the Apostolic Churches actively discourage the use of contraception.
While the magnitude of difference between Christian denominations are not as great as between Christianity and other religions (i.e. African indigenous religions and Islam, see Part 2 of this series), differences still exist. Thus, the findings show that pooling Christian denominations, or categorising them as Catholic and non-Catholic (pan-Protestant) as is done in many studies in SSA, can obscure fertility differences related to denominational commitment, social cohesion, and norms. Agadjanian and Yabiku demonstrate the importance of examining all major denominations in an area to clarify the relationship between fertility and religious affiliation. Having a sound understanding of this relationship will assist economic planners, aid organisations, policymakers, and politicians in their population policies.
- Agadjanian, V. & Yabiku, S. T. Religious Affiliation and Fertility in a Sub-Saharan Context: Dynamic and Lifetime Perspectives. Population Research and Policy Review 33, 673-691 (2014). doi:10.1007/s11113-013-9317-2
- Turner, N. Influence of Religion and Religiosity on Fertility and Contraceptive Use in Continental Sub-Saharan Africa: A Comprehensive Review. University of Gothenburg, 195 pages. (2021). doi:10.31237/osf.io/sezdq
- Heaton, T. B. Does Religion Influence Fertility in Developing Countries? Population Research and Policy Review 30, 449-465 (2011).
- Garenne, M. DHS Analytical Studies, No. 33: Education and Fertility in Sub-Saharan Africa – A Longitudinal Perspective. (ICF International, 2012).
- Dodzo, M. K., Mhloyi, M., Moyo, S. & Dodzo-Masawi, M. Praying Until Death: Apostolicism, Delays and Maternal Mortality in Zimbabwe. PLoS ONE 11(8) (2016).
- Chemhaka, G. B. & Odimegwu, C. Individual and Community Factors Associated with Lifetime Fertility in Eswatini: An Application of the Easterlin-Crimmins Model. Journal of Population Research 37, 291-322 (2020).
- Heaton, T. B. How Does Religion Influence Fertility? The Case of Mormons. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 25(2), 248-258 (1986).
- Agadjanian, V. Religion, Social Milieu and the Contraceptive Revolution. Population Studies 55(2), 135-148 (2001).
- Agadjanian, V. Religious Denomination, Religious Involvement and Contraceptive Use in Mozambique. Studies in Family Planning 44(3), 259-274 (2013).