Nineteen Sixty-four is a research blog for the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University edited by Mark M. Gray. CARA is a non-profit research center that conducts social scientific studies about the Catholic Church. Founded in 1964, CARA has three major dimensions to its mission: to increase the Catholic Church's self understanding; to serve the applied research needs of Church decision-makers; and to advance scholarly research on religion, particularly Catholicism. Follow CARA on Twitter at: caracatholic.


Family Pets and Fertility?

I was traveling last week and as I waited to board a plane a woman answered the first call for those with small children or others needing assistance. She passed me with a pink stroller. As I looked in the stroller to see the baby’s smile I saw… a dog! A cute dog but nonetheless not what I expected. She checked the stroller and as I boarded the plane I saw it on the entry ramp to the plane with a small label that clearly read “for dogs only.” That was my second surprise. They make strollers especially for dogs? You might be surprised what they make for dogs (see above)! Virtually anything you can buy for a child you can now buy for a dog… strollers, diapers, Halloween costumes, Snuggies… (In fact it is estimated that Americans spent $47,700,000,000 on their pets in 2010. That is similar to the total size of the U.S. Department of Education budget in the same year or the annual total gross domestic product of Belarus. Another aspect of the growing pet economy is an increase in the number of people leaving parts of their estates to their pets).

On the plane as I was reading the “news”  this quote from Elisabetta Canalis, Italian girlfriend of actor George Clooney, caught my eye: "Getting pregnant has never been an objective for me. My maternal desires are fully satisfied with my dogs." OK that’s too much of a coincidence not to be a blog post… (and I’m not the only one to have had this thought… ). I’ve come to learn that people like Ms. Canalis are known as “pet parents”—people who treat their pets the same way they would a human child. In fact if you want to start looking for gifts now National Pet Parent’s Day is celebrated each year on the last Sunday of April (April 24 in 2011, or on the Church calendar, Easter Sunday).

You want to do some social science of your own on this topic? Here is a simple experiment. Go to your local grocery store. Compare the baby aisle to the pet isle. Is the pet aisle bigger? I would not be surprised. Why? It turns out there are now more pets than children in the United States. Need more evidence? There are 8.6 million photographs on Flickr with the tag “dog” and only 8.5 million tagged as “baby.”

To explore further, I searched the iPoll archives and found a number of questions about pets. In surveys from 1947 to 1985 fewer than half of Americans reported having a pet (sometimes more specifically phrased more narrowly as a “dog or cat”). And then something happened in the 1990s. A majority of Americans became pet owners. Specifically dog ownership increased from about one in four to a third during the 1947 to 1985 period to more than four in ten since the mid-1990s. Could this increase in pet ownership be affecting fertility rates? Or more likely, could this increase in pet ownership be a result of declining fertility rates and the desire of Americans to have a parental connection to something?

The literature on Catholic fertility rates is substantial. One of my favorite pieces comes from Sister Leo Marie, O.P. published the 1944 article “Is the Catholic Birth Rate Declining?” in The American Catholic Sociological Review. Here she writes, “It has been the observation of many priests and teachers in the area studied that certain elements, such as birth control and mixed marriages, have weakened Catholicism in this region [mid-south] and have helped to bring about religious indifference and carelessness” (p. 177). Remember this is 1944! Yet it sounds like something you might have heard in a blog rant in 2004. In this article she finds that “the proportion of large families has declined appreciably and that of small families has increased” (p. 181). She concludes that “Only a superficial analysis is required to show that the main causes of the present declining birth rate are urban culture, the weakening of the moral and religious fiber of people, and the economic structure of present day society” (p. 183).

Unfortunately for Sr. Leo Marie this article was written just before one of the most extraordinary increases in Catholic (and non-Catholic) fertility in the history of the United States—the Baby Boom. So much for the effects of urban culture and the weakening of moral and religious fiber! (This should also serve as a lesson to those who believe the 1950s and 1960s were the “norm” for Catholic fertility. These were not. Catholic fertility was significantly lower in the 1930s and 1940s—severely affected by both economic depression and war well before the availability of the pill or abortion). Between 1956 and 1965 the Catholic marital fertility rate was approximately 4.3 children (see Westoff, Charles F. and Elise F. Jones “The End of ‘Catholic’ Fertility” in Demography, v.16 pp. 209-217). From 1966 to 1970 this dropped to 2.8 and from 1971 to 1975 down to 2.3 per woman. These fertility rates were significantly higher than non-Catholics even as they also experienced a significant jump in fertility between 1956 and 1965.

The decline in fertility and increase in pet ownership are indeed correlated yet there is certainly no evidence of direct causation in either direction. Today the American fertility rate is just above 2.0 at or near “replacement” level. However, this is primarily due to the high fertility rates of immigrants—many of who self-identify their religion as Catholic. The more relevant question is if pet ownership among Catholic today related to fertility? Below, I look to a 2008-09 American National Election Study (ANES) panel survey for some answers. I must note that this survey uses a sample that excludes non-citizens—as they are legally ineligible to vote. Thus, it is not a perfect representation of the Catholic (and non-Catholic) adult population. But it is as good a source that is available as polling about pet ownership is not necessarily a hot topic.

Overall, three in four Catholics (74%) report in the 2008 ANES study that they have a pet in their household (Take note that only 75% of all Catholic adults in the most recent General Social Survey indicate that they have ever had a child). This is significantly higher than historical rates of pet ownership measured in Gallup and other news surveys in recent decades. Other Americans with a religious affiliation are slightly less likely than Catholics to own a pet (67%). Catholic pet ownership rates are identical to those of Americans without any religious affiliation (i.e., the Nones).

Catholics clearly prefer dogs to cats or any other type of pet. About half of all Catholics (49%) have a dog in their household and nearly a third has a cat (32%). Fish (12%), reptiles (5%), and birds (4%) are also relatively popular selections. If you want a pony you better hope that your parents are not Catholic as only 1% say they own some type of horse.

By comparison, Nones are much more likely to be “cat people.” Some 47% of those without a religious affiliation have a cat in their household compared to 32% of Catholics, 35% of Protestants, and only 25% of those of other religious affiliations. Also interesting is that Protestants are only half as likely as Catholics to own a reptile.

Are Catholic pet owners less likely to have larger families than Catholics who do not own pets? Here we are up against the limits of the questions asked in the ANES survey. As a proxy we only have total household size which is a fairly good proxy. 

The results? Hypotheses rejected! Catholics with pets do not have smaller families than those without pets. On average, the household size of Catholics with dogs is 3.4 compared to a 3.2 person household size for all Catholics. Add cats to the equation and Catholic pet owners still have larger households. It appears that pets come along with children rather than the other way around.

Thus, if you are looking for scapegoats for declining Catholic fertility don’t look to the family dog (or other pets)... yet. More often than not a family dog is associated with larger Catholic households. I’m still not sure if they need strollers, a Snuggie, or a large place in any will, but I can report that there is little evidence in current data that openness to pet ownership among Catholics is replacing openness to children.

[...for full disclosure I must note that where pets are considered CARA is a dog office.]


The Changing Jesuit Geography

It is Jesuit Heritage Week here at Georgetown. Below are results of some of the most up-to-date research on global changes within the the Society of Jesus. This research was conducted by CARA Executive Director Thomas P. Gaunt, SJ, Ph.D. and presented at the annual conference of the Religious Research Association, October 30, 2010, in Baltimore, MD.

The Jesuits are the single largest Religious Congregation of priests and brothers in the Roman Catholic Church and they work in almost every country of the world.  The primary ministry of Jesuits is education, on both the secondary and university levels.  Well established and well respected Jesuit schools have existed in Europe and the Americas for centuries.  During the latter half of the 20th Century an extensive network of “popular education” schools were initiated by Jesuits particularly in Latin America and South Asia.  The choice of ministries and the manner in which they are carried out has a great influence in the Catholic Church throughout the world.

During the past 100 years membership in the Society of Jesus has steadily grown and steadily dropped.  In 1910 there were 16,295 Jesuits worldwide and in 2010 there are 18,266.  The number of Jesuits steadily increased year by year from 1910 until it peaked in 1965 at 36,038 Jesuits.  Since 1965 there is a steady decline each year resulting in about half the number of Jesuits as there was 45 years ago.

Yet the figure above masks some of the dramatic changes in membership by geography and age that have occurred in the past 30 or more years.

For administrative purposes the provinces of the Society of Jesus are organized under six geographic regions:
  • Africa – all of Africa and Madagascar except North Africa,
  • Latin America – all of South America, Central America, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean,
  • South Asia – India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka,
  • East Asia – Australia, Philippines, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, China, Thailand, and Myanmar,
  • Europe – Europe, Russia, the Middle East, North Africa, Canada
  • United States – USA, Jamaica, Belize, and Micronesia.
When the total number of Jesuits by geographic region is examined it is clear that the steep decline in the number of Jesuits in Europe and the USA dwarfs the steady growth of the Jesuits in South Asia and Africa.  The Jesuits of East Asia and Latin America have declined but to a much lesser extent.

In 1982, Africa and South Asia had 16.4% of the Jesuit membership and Europe and the USA had 62.9%, yet by 2010 Africa and South Asia had grown to 30% and Europe and the USA had declined to 46.2%.  

Over the course of the past 28 years the smallest annual decline in Jesuits worldwide was 167 in 1986 and the largest decline of 401 was in 2007.  This is in sharp contrast to the  declines of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s that saw declines between 811 to 1,037 each year (unfortunately geographic distribution data are unavailable for those years). 

Another way to examine membership in the Society of Jesus is to look at it in terms of the historically large regions of Europe and the USA in comparison to the smaller and newer regions of Africa, Latin America, South Asia and East Asia.  In this view one sees a dramatic change in the membership of the Jesuits since 1982.  Beginning in 2005 the majority of Jesuits is now in the developing world and will increasingly be from outside of Europe and the USA.

These changes in the membership of the Jesuits are driven by three factors: the number of men entering, the number of men departing, and the number of men dying each year.  And these three factors are not consistent across geography, at least for the past 30 years.

Entering Jesuits
In 1982, there were 583 men entering Jesuit novitiates around the world and 28 years later in 2010 there were 470 men entering the novitiates.  Over this period of time the largest number entered in 1985 (660 men) and the fewest in 2009 (453 men). 

The changes in the number of men entering the novitiate differed greatly by geography as shown in the table below. A drop of more than 50% is seen in Europe and the USA versus the relative stability or growth in South Asia, East Asia and Africa.

When these changes in the number and distribution of entering Jesuits is graphed according to those from the “developed world” (Europe and USA) versus those from the “developing world” (Africa, Latin America, South Asia and East Asia) the ever widening gap is clearly evident as the “developing world” entering Jesuits grows from just over one-half to nearly three-quarters of all new Jesuits.

Dismissed Jesuits
The number of men leaving the Jesuits over the past three decades also varies by year and geography yet it fairly closely follows the pattern of proportional changes as Entering Jesuits.  In the second figure below we also see that the proportion of Jesuits leaving the Society from the “developing world” goes from about 45% to nearly 75%.

Jesuit Deaths
The number of Jesuits that died in 1982 (423 deaths) and in 2010 (428 deaths) are almost the same yet there are about a third fewer Jesuits worldwide (26,298 versus 18,266).  The figure below shows the number of Jesuit deaths peaking in the early and mid 1990’s and beginning to decline over the past seven years.


The geographic distribution of deaths has not shifted as much as the proportion of entering Jesuits over the last three decades.  The “developed world” Jesuit deaths have gone from about 70% to 64% of the total.  This can be explained by the large number of older Jesuits (70+ years of age) in Europe and the USA as compared to the “developing world.”

Cumulative Effects
The figures below show the proportional changes over time in entrance, dismissal and death for the “developed world” and “developing world.”  This results in four observations:
  1. The proportion of men entering the Jesuits has steadily increased in the developing world while the proportion from the developed world has steadily decreased.
  2. The two lines representing the proportion of men entering and departing the Jesuits are narrowing and beginning to run together as time has passed in both the developed world and developing world.  The proportion of men persevering in the Jesuits has become more and more similar across the world over the past three decades.
  3. The proportionate number of deaths has changed very little over the years geographically.
  4. Whereas the proportion of total Jesuits in each area of the world has steadily increased in the developing regions and decreased in the developed regions.

The proportion of men entering the Jesuits between the developed and developing regions of the world “appears” to be leveling out with about 75% from the developing countries and 25% from the developed countries.  Once this occurs it will be the proportion of deaths that will continue to change over the next two decades as the age distribution, skewed by the large number of men entering in the developed countries post World War II, passes on.

The figure below shows the average age for Scholastics (those Jesuits in formation preparing for ordination), Priests, and for all members in 2010.  The current “youthfulness” of the developing regions of the world is evident as Africa and South Asia have an average age of less than 50 in contrast to the average age of 65 for Europe and the USA.

Over the course of 30 years the Society of Jesus worldwide will have “flipped” in its geographic composition from two-third / one-third division of developed to developing world, to the reverse.  Added to this is the great change in age distribution across the Society which is resulting in a rapid shift from a more European/USA Vatican II perspective to a more Indian/African post-Vatican II perspective.  The change is both in generation and in geography which may be more creative and/or disruptive than might be assumed.

An update to this analysis is available here.

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