Demographic fertility research: a question of disciplinary beliefs and methods

Lareen Newman

in Religion, spirituality and the social sciences

Published by Policy Press

Published in print September 2008 | ISBN: 9781847420411
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781447303190 | DOI:
Demographic fertility research: a question of disciplinary beliefs and methods

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Fertility rates are of political, social, and academic interest because of their implications on future social and economic trends. In Australia, women are having, on average, fewer than two children, and each nominal couple is not replacing itself. At this rate and without the prospect of higher immigration, it is feared that Australia's population will decline and decrease in its size in the next fifty years. Since 2000, researchers and politicians have directed their attention towards understanding influences on fertility behaviour, and in particular ‘fertility gaps’ where people would have additional children under different circumstances. In these researches, much focus is given to economic and work-based constraints, shunning the valuable perspectives offered by social factors such as religious affiliations or contact with religious communities. This chapter hence explores the changing place of religions as a variable of interest in the demographic research on family size and fertility rate in Australia. It provides insight for those interested in religion and in social sciences. It argues that the lack of attention to religious influences on contemporary Australian fertility resulted from researchers adhering to an unquestioning belief in the hegemony of secularisation, and to a continued preference for aggregate-level quantitative analysis at the expense of qualitative methods, which contributed towards a ‘closed shop’ on research topics. The chapter also shows the benefits in disaggregating data rather than aggregating to traditional groupings that may hide important differences and trends. In particular, the chapter shows how qualitative research methods which talk to ‘the actors’ allow the voices of those in faith communities to be heard and explored.

Keywords: fertility; Australia; fertility behaviour; religions; demographic research; family size; fertility rate; religious influences; contemporary Australian fertility; qualitative research methods

Chapter.  5860 words. 

Subjects: Sociology of Religion

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