Religion and fertility in Western Europe: trends across cohorts in Britain, France and the Netherlands

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

May 15, 2016


The role of religion in explaining fertility differences is often
overlooked in demographic studies, particularly in Western Europe, where
there has been a substantial decline in institutional forms of
religious adherence. The current study explores the changing
relationships between religion and childbearing in Britain, France and
the Netherlands. Using data from the Generations and Gender Programme
and the British Household Panel Survey, religious differences in
completed fertility and the transition to first birth are explored
across cohorts of women. In addition, a longitudinal analysis is
employed to examine the influence of religion on subsequent
childbearing. Although the secularization paradigm assumes that the
influence of religion on individual behavior will diminish over time, it
is found that religious affiliation and practice continue to be
important determinants of fertility and family formation patterns.
However, there is some variation in the relationship between religion
and fertility across countries; while in France and the Netherlands
fertility gaps by religiosity are either consistent or increasing, in
Britain, this gap appears to have narrowed over time. These findings
suggest that fertility differences by religion also depend on the
particular social context of religious institutions in each country.

Published in

European Journal of Population

Volume and page numbers

Volume: 32 , p.231 -265






© The Author(s) 2016

Open Access

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://​creativecommons.​org/​licenses/​by/​4.​0/​), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.



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