Let's talk about facts this election - Part VII - More Family Values

In a comment to yesterday's post Rev Matt stated:

There is also a correlation between teen pregnancy and religion.

I tried to look up the stats for the US and couldn't find any. What I discovered (mostly from this study) was that in the US religiosity correlates with a lower rate of contraception use (not surprising), a delay in the age of a person's first sexual experience (not that surprising) and a decrease in abortion. So in the US it is not clear what the correlation is between teen pregnancy and religiosity. (If any one can find that data, let me know.)

ON THE OTHER HAND there does exist quite a bit of data comparing the stats between different countries. Here the story is quite clear, the more religious a country is the higher the incidence of teenage pregnancy, teenage abortion, infant mortality (

Here's a few graphs where teen pregancy is ploted against various measures of religiosity.


If you are interested in other cross-national stats, check out Google's Gapminder.

Gregory S. Paul
Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies
Journal of Religion and Society (05) Vol.7

Sam A. Hardy, and Marcela Raffaelli
Adolescent religiosity and sexuality: an investigation of reciprocal influences
Journal of Adolescence (03) 26:731-739

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I used the Guttmacher reports as my primary source, though to be fair I'm making assumptions about which states have a higher percentage of religious people.

Thanks Rev Matt,

For those who want to take a look:

Here's one relevant passage:

In 2000, teenage birthrates were highest in Mississippi, Texas, Arizona, Arkansas and New Mexico. The states with the lowest teenage birthrates were New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, North Dakota and Maine.

and here's another:

Among states with available data, Arkansas had the highest pregnancy rate among non-Hispanic white teenagers (77 per 1,000). Pregnancy rates among this group were also high in other Southern states: Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky and South Carolina (71-73 per 1,000).

Here's the rub on US religiousity - you have to distinguish between the effects of being personally religious, and living in a religious culture. In a religious culture, you'd expect the church-going folks to in general be the healthier members of the community - even if the community itself is falling apart.

So I'm just saying, correlates of personal religiousity in a religious culture don't say diddly about whether relgiousity is healthy for society (the inter-nation numbers).

There are biases in the sampling population, what about trying to include countries with the other significant established religions: Hindus, buddhists, muslims, etc? Otherwise, excluding Japan from the studies will be more proper since christianity is not as predominant as other existing religion: shinto and buddhism.

By Zebrafish (not verified) on 11 Sep 2008 #permalink

To me, the most interesting thing about these graphs is not just the teen pregnancy stats but the dgree to which the USA is out on its own among the developed nations.

By Paul Murray (not verified) on 11 Sep 2008 #permalink


I completely agree. It is highly possible that the more religious a culture is, the worse the social indicators are. In fact the opposite may be true as well, a worsening of societal indicators promotes religiosity.
What I think is going on is that education, knowledge and tolerance correlate inversely with religiosity and all the associated social indicators (teen pregnancy, homicide etc.)These facts should give social conservatives something to think about - legislating morality is not the solution.