Does religion belong in population studies?
Religion has survived a period of comparative neglect in social science to become a topic of keen interest. Questions on religion are now often included in censuses and surveys. It does not follow from the perceived importance of the topic, however, that these questions yield useful data. The difficulties and limitations of using survey responses on religion, and the purposes that such information might nevertheless serve, are examined in this paper. The effects of religion may relate either to religious identity or to the degree of religious commitment (religiosity). Neither of these characteristics is easy to measure. The potential importance of religion means that demand for data on the topic is unlikely to disappear, however. Religion can affect age at marriage, marital stability, attitudes to family planning and desired family size, health and morbidity, and propensity to move, that is, fertility, mortality, and migration, the main topics of formal demography. It can also be relevant in various areas of applied population studies, including education, economic activity, social equality, crime, alcohol use, social attitudes, and social capital, making it a factor in public-policy debates.
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