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Across the world religious people have more children than their secular counterparts. Offspring number, in modern environments, is generally inversely related to child success—yet children born to religious parents often flourish. We currently have limited understanding of how religion impacts the number of children people have, their children’s outcomes, or why these dynamics vary across religious groups.

This project joins an existing project to address this “paradox of religious fertility” by testing the religious alloparenting hypothesis that religious people subsidize the costs of high fertility through social support from kin and co-religionists. Fieldwork in West Bengal, India will add a fifth site to our in-progress cross-cultural comparison. It will also allow a novel comparison with our existing dataset from Bangladesh—the two sites contrast in terms of minority and majority religions but share the same language and cultural norms, creating a natural experiment allowing us to better analyze the effect of religious minority status on fertility and child outcomes.

Outputs of the project include (a) surveys and anthropometric data on 1000 women and their children, at least 600 of their husbands, and 12 focus groups with Hindus and Muslims in Birbhum, West Bengal State, India, (b) 3 high-quality journal articles testing predictions from the religious alloparenting hypothesis using data from the Birbhum site, and (c) communication of our findings to academics, the general public, and the development policy community.

This project will contribute to the development of the evolutionary demography of religion as a novel subfield of research, contribute to policy and development initiatives relevant to fertility in the modernizing world, and inform public debates on the resilience of religion in the modern era.