Saturday, April 26, 2008

European Birth Rates and Government Subsidies

European population levels are falling in many places now, and set to drastically fall in the next 50 years as the older generation dies off. As an American, it is astounding to see the subsidies that European governments provide for people to have children. Yet, despite all the government assistance available, Europeans do not choose to have children.

A fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman is considered replacement level, and would keep the population at a steady level. No European country has attained that level. These are national averages:

Ireland: 1.99
France: 1.90
Norway: 1.81
Sweden 1.75
UK: 1.74
Netherlands: 1.73
Germany: 1.37
Italy: 1.33
Spain: 1.32
Greece: 1.29

[By comparison, in America [stats here], the overall fertility rate is 2.04, almost replacement level, which however, varies by region and race. The western and southern states generally have a higher fertility rate than the eastern and northern states. For example, compare UT (2.57), AZ (2.39), AK (2.37), TX (2.35), ID (2.32), CA (2.13), and CO (2.11) to MA (1.74), ME (1.75), RI (1.76), PA (1.86), NH (1.77), and VT (1.68). The fertility rate also differs by race, with Whites (1.86) at the lowest, compared to Blacks (2.03) and Hispanics (2.79).]

Ireland is a laggard in governmental support compared to European standards, yet still has the highest birthrate. Irish parents get 6 months maternity leave and 3 months paternal leave, however, without much availability of or subsidy for childcare.

France has some of the most extensive state-funded child care in Europe, as well as a pro-family tax structure. Mothers can take 16 weeks paid maternity leave for the first child, rising to 26 weeks for the third child. There is also a total of 26 months parental leave. Child care facilities are subsidized by the government, with younger children entitled to full-day childcare, and toddlers entitled to programs for which families pay on a sliding scale. Having children also lowers your taxes, as the more children you have, the smaller tax bracket you move into. Government also provides a monthly allowance of around $360 for families with three children, which rises when they reach 11 years old. France also provides a large family discount card, which brings us 30% reductions on transportation, and free activities and amenities, as well as about $300 a year towards extra-curricular arts and sports. There is also a tax deduction for home help, which makes it easier for mothers to work. France also encourages two-child families to move on to a third, providing payment of around $700 a month for mothers (or occasionally fathers) to take time off for up to three years for a third child.

In the UK, mothers get six months' paid leave and the option of six months further unpaid leave. The first six weeks are at 90% of pay and the next 20 at £102.80 (around $200) per week. New fathers are allowed two weeks' paid leave at a maximum £102.80 a week. The government offers free early education places. Children from the age of four get free part-time places at nurseries - some three year olds also get places. Parents of children under the age of six have the right to ask their employers for more flexible working hours.

In Germany, the government offers 14 weeks fully paid maternity leave plus parental leave of up to 36 months, with the level of pay depending on a number of factors. There is a severe shortage of child care places, with only 20% of toddlers getting a place. The government child care centers close at 1pm, and are incredibly expensive.

In Poland, women get paid over $400 for each new child they have, with women from poorer families receiving up to double that amount.

In Spain, fully funded maternity leave can last for 16 weeks, and unpaid leave of three years is available, but only about one-third of Spanish mothers take up maternity benefits.

In Italy, the government offers a one-time payment of $1,500 to couples who have a second child. Italy offers at least five months maternity leave on full pay with up to six more months on reduced pay. There are also tax breaks for children, and publically subsidized childcare, but most public nurseries do not have openings, and private nurseries are very expensive.

In Russia, maternity hospitals are free of charge and pregnant women get vitamins and iron supplements.

In Norway, mothers must take 6 weeks off, and are entitled to 12 months off work with 80% pay, or 10 months with full pay. Fathers are entitled to take almost all of that leave instead of the mother, and must take at least four weeks off. Norway also provides state-subsidized childcare.

In Sweden, each parent is entitled to 18 months leave, which is paid for by the government. Public day care is heavily subsidized and flexible work schedules are common - women with children of pre-school age are entitled to reduce their working hours.

Taken from data collected by the BBC, here.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hindu Reality Denial: No One Can Know the Truth about Rama

According to the Hindu high courts, no one is allowed to critically examine their religion, not even honors history students in the university.

At issue was an historical examination of the Ramayana epic. The Ramayana is one of their most popular religious stories, telling the story of Rama, an avatar of Vishna, and his battles against evil demons in ancient times.

Hindus worship Rama, so it is a bit of an uncomfortable fact that Rama is a work of fiction and legend.

The honors history class analyzes the many versions of the narrative of Lord Ram's life. Well, it is actually just one essay in one book, on a list of recommended readings, an essay by A.K. Ramanujan on the folk traditions of the Ramayana called 'Three Hundred Ramanayas: Five Examples and Three Thoughts on Translation.’

Naturally, when there are hundreds of conflicting versions of a story, it makes you question the historical accuracy of the story.

However, according to the political party representing Hinduism in India, the BJP, such questioning of the historicity of Lord Ram is not allowed. According to their representative who filed the injunction against Delhi University, “The objectionable references in the book are hurting the feelings of Hindus. It is a violation of fundamental rights.”

There you have it! According to the Hindus, their fundamental rights have been violated, since you hurt their feelings when you examine the historicity of their main god. Academic freedom, freedom of thought, religious freedom? Bah! Hinduism Uber Alles!

Full story here.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Continuing Growth of Christianity in Africa

Most world religion textbooks still mistakenly show Sub-Saharan Africa as non-affiliated/tribal, or focus on the spread of Islam, mumbling some disapproval about the association of Christianity with European imperialism.

Time to update the textbooks: Sub-Saharan Africa is overwhelmingly Christian. Christianity is the largest religion in the following African countries, the percent expressing the percent of total population (from CIA World Factbook):

Angola 53%, Benin 43%, Botswana 72%, Burundi 67%, Cameroon 40%, Central African Republic 50%, Dem. Rep. of the Congo 70%, Equatorial Guinea (no % given), Ethiopia 61%, Gabon 75%, Ghana 69%, Kenya 78%, Lesotho 80%, Liberia 40%, Malawi 80%, Mozambique 41%, Namibia 90%, Rep. of the Congo 50%, Rwanda 94%, South Africa 80%, Swaziland aprox 80%, Uganda 84%, Zambia 75%, and Zimbabwe 75%.

(note: Nigeria, the largest country in Africa with over 135 million people, is over 40% Christian, but 50% Muslim. Islam dominates northern Africa, basically all Arab countries connected to the Saharan Desert. Even including Arabic north Africa, Christianity is running close to Islam continent-wide, 46.4% to 53.6%. Take the large Islamic country Egypt out of the equation (which provides a surplus of 66 million Muslims), and Africa as-a-whole would be considered majority Christian already.)

With Christianity becoming the majority religion of Africa, African Christians are also poised to become the most numerous Christians in the world. In what is certainly a shock to our traditional stereotypes, there will soon be more Christians in Africa than in Europe, if there isn’t more already. I say “if not already” because while there are a great many “cultural Christians” in Europe, the committed, convicted, church-going Christians in Europe are only a small minority in their supposedly Christian societies.

According to the article found here, as of 2007, Europe still had the largest number of Christians in the world – 532 million, followed by Latin America with 525 million, then Africa at 417 million, and the U.S. at 223 million. But by 2025, thanks to high birth and conversion rates, Africa and Latin America are projected to have 634 million Christians each, while Europe will fall to 531 million Christians, with 252 million in the U.S.

Another way to look at the change: In 1900, over 80% of all Christians were from Europe and North America, but today the number is under 45%.

African Christians tend to take their religion more seriously than European or American Christians, and tend to be more conservative theologically.

In regard to their enthusiasm, the African Christian leader Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, speaking at Washington National Cathedral in December 2007, said that Christianity is not seen as a “part-time” occupation in Africa, but rather “permeates the whole life… Christianity in Africa, sub-Saharan Africa especially, is seen not only as a religion, but this is the opportunity of people to contribute to national building, to peace and reconciliation, to development. Therefore the church becomes the center of activity.”

As an example of their conservatism, the African Anglicans are boycotting the international Anglican Lambeth Conference, objecting to the increasing approval given to homosexuality by the English, Canadian, and American Anglican/Episcopalian churches [more here]. The Africans quite rightly point out that acceptance of homosexuality is just plain un-biblical. As conservative Bible-believers, they are not hesitant to stand up against the Christian blessing of homosexuality.

We are already living in a time when some of the largest Anglican church within England itself are Nigerian Anglican congregations, and multiple African churches are establishing missionary churches in America, such as the Rwanda-based Anglican Mission in the Americas [here]. Africa accounts for about half of the world's 76.5 million Anglicans, and Nigeria's 17.5 million Anglicans constitute the largest number outside England, dwarfing the total number in Canada or America. Upwards of 80% of that membership growth in Nigeria has occurred in the last 2 or 3 decades, after languishing at low levels for the previous century.

This rapid, recent growth partly accounts for why so many religion textbooks seem to be out-of-date and need to be corrected on the issue of African religions.

Perhaps lingering anti-Christian bias among the (leftist and atheist) religious studies elite also accounts for why most textbooks continue to fail to portray the truth of the matter.