"I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history." -Cardinal Francis George

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Orthodox vs. Catholic: The Future Demographic Meltdown

Eastern Orthodoxy is aging and dying, while Catholicism is set to increase.

In simple terms: as Russia goes, so goes Eastern Orthodoxy. The reason, in my view is diversity. Catholicism is diverse, covering all geography and people groups, and is immune to being decimated when one group or region is decimated. Not so for Orthodoxy.

First some raw stats.

  • The global fertility rate is 2.46 children per woman. (Global replacement rate is 2.3, developed nation replacement rate is 2.1)
  • Nearly every country has a declining fertility rate.
  • 1,114 million Catholics with a fertility rate of 2.49.
  • 230 million Orthodox with a fertility rate of 1.42.

Eastern Orthodoxy is a regional religion. This is often disputed by Orthodox apologists, but it is simple demographic reality. Zoom your mental camera in on the area of the globe comprising the following 6 countries:

  1. Russia,
  2. Ukraine,
  3. Romania,
  4. Greece,
  5. Belarus and
  6. Bulgaria.
These 6 countries make up 82% (190 Million) of Eastern Orthodoxy. But religion is not all they have in common. Not only are these countries geographically close and culturally similar, but these countries have the some of the lowest fertility rates in the world. Combined, their fertility rate is a frigid 1.37 (Keep in mind that replacement rate is 2.1 for a developing country). 1.37 means a rapidly aging and shrinking population, which is currently happening. Russia is home to 48% of Orthodoxy. Out of 222 countries, Russia and Bulgaria place 196 and 195 in global fertility respectively and have the best fertility rates of the 6 countries with a horrific 1.42. Ukraine, which houses 16% of all Orthodox, has an abysmal fertility rate of 1.28. And those 6 countries make up 82% of Eastern Orthodoxy! The other 18% of Orthodoxy does not leave room for hope either. It is just as regionally isolated, and its fertility rate is barely higher at 1.67. There is no significant area of Orthodoxy that is growing.

Now let’s take a similar survey of the Catholic world. The top 27 countries which comprise 82% (906 Million) of Catholicism have a fertility rate of 2.45. That is a nice solid number that means growth. Another thing which becomes obvious is the diversification. Like a balanced financial portfolio, the Catholic population is scattered. By the time we get to #11 on the list of most populous Catholic countries, which is the 30 million Catholics in the Congo, we have gone from latin America to North America, over to the Philippines and then to Eastern and western Europe. There are developed industrial countries to 3rd world and everything in-between right up at the top of the list. There is an incredible diversity. There are 30 million Catholics in Congo with a fertility rate of 5.68. Wow. The 70 million Filipino Catholics have a fertility rate of 3.19. Even the United States bucks the global trend of developed nations with its replacement rate of 2.06. Ironically, the US is one of the most fertile places for the Orthodox. But, there are only 1.2 million Orthodox in the US.

Of course my numbers are assuming that the fertility rate of a nations Catholic or Orthodox population is at least as good as the national fertility rate (And yes, I also assume that a high fertility rate is good). In some cases, particularly less developed countries, I would think that the more devout subsets of the population would have a higher rate. In my own case, this is true. My 3 siblings and I (we are all serious about or religion) have a combined fertility rate of >6. And I know for a fact that high number has something to do with religious conviction in every case. Combine this reality with the fact that the Catholic Church is by all accounts growing more conservative, with more open teaching against contraception, and a more willing laity to obey those directives, and the future looks bright for Catholics. Is there a similar undercurrent in Orthodoxy? I cant say. I know they have dropped the ball on the contraception issue, that is a fact.

But one crucial thing the data tells us is that Orthodoxy is regional. As Russia goes, so goes Orthodoxy. And Russia aint going anywhere. It is actually shrinking, with that trend predicted to continue. There are simply no bright spots in the demographic future of Orthodoxy. The website where I obtained most of my data on Orthodoxy actually included ~22 million “Orthodox” in very fertile (6.02) Ethiopia. One problem, those are Oriental Orthodox, and are absolutely not in communion with Eastern Orthodoxy. I doubt if any of our Greek or Russian Orthodox brothers would want to claim them as their own. The most populous country with a decent Orthodox population and a decent fertility rate is the US. Keep moving down the list looking for good fertility rates and the only ones you will find are such sparkling gems as Kyrgyzstan, Syria, Iraq, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Jordan, Israel, Tajikistan, Palestine, and Turkey. I think it is not a stretch to say that it is the Muslims in these countries that are pushing up the fertility rates, not the Christians. Combine this with the fact that half of Orthodoxy resides in Russia, which is on the bottom of the “religiosity” scale.

Basically, Russians as a whole simply don’t care about religion. Compare with Brazil, the Philippines and even the US, which are fundamentalists compared with Russia.
Another factor to consider is Islam. Orthodoxy and Islam often share the same territory, Whereas the majority of Catholicism does not. I don’t think it is controversial to say that in those countries where they coexist, in general Islam slowly dominates through intermarriage conversions and other factors.

So that leaves us with a very narrow, well defined, and fairly easily predicable outlook for Eastern Orthodoxy. Because it is so narrowly defined within certain nations which are imploding, it is fair to say that Orthodoxy is imploding. Will it disappear? No way. There are always subsets of a population which have higher than average fertility rates. I am sure there is a woman in Russia right now who has 7 kids. If that is something she passes on to her descendants, then the fertility rate in Russia will someday be higher. But the size of the population will have decreased dramatically. I think this is far less likely to happen in Catholic countries such as Brazil, Mexico, central Africa and the Philippines. They will maintain above replacement levels of fertility and skip the drastic decline that Russia and eastern Europe are experiencing.

What it means demographically:

I think that this data almost certainly means that the 230 million Eastern Orthodox in the world will be declining rather rapidly in the coming 2 generations. Those who are left will no doubt be more devout, which may or may not be good for the prospects of Catholic/Orthodox reunion, but they will be much fewer. I predict there will be a bit less than 100 million Eastern Orthodox by 2070. For the same time period I predict there will be over 2 billion Catholics.

What it means for the Church:

Of course I do not wish ill on anyone, and I sure do wish the Orthodox would start to out-breed their Muslim neighbors, or better yet... become Catholic. But I am a Catholic who sees the Catholic Church as THE kingdom of God, the rock that grows to fill the earth from Daniels vision, the mustard seed that grows to a huge tree, etc. Why would anyone not want to be a part of that? And I see in these demographics perhaps the working out of God’s plan. I can’t prove it, but it is interesting to think about. Here is a powerhouse comment by Bryan Cross on Called to Communion about the Catholic/Orthodox numbers game and other important considerations.

One thing I know, is that the scope and reach of the Catholic Church is well worth considering. It is the biggest organization on the planet. Stop. Re-read that. Yes, it is the biggest organization on the planet. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Watching the Catholic Church is like watching a perpetual motion machinerun or seeing a unicorn; it can’t be, but there it is. The only thing that comes close is Sunni Islam with its 940 million. But Sunni Islam can hardly be described as one group with one hierarchy. This aspect of the Catholic Church is to me miraculous. As stupid and evil humans can be, that one organization with such grand claims for itself could survive so improbably for 2000 years is… well, a miracle. It is one among many reasons to submit to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. And it was one of the reasons I did not submit to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Fertility rate by country: http://www.indexmundi.com/g/r.aspx?v=31
Global fertility: 2.46 children born/woman (2011 est.) https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/xx.html
46 countries will lose population by 2050, many in eastern Europe. The population of Bulgaria will fall by 35%, Ukraine by 33%, and Belarus, Romania, the Russian Federation, Moldova, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland by 20% to 30%.” http://web.inter.nl.net/users/Paul.Treanor/nohumans.html


  1. This is a sad, but amazing article. Why do you suppose the birthrate is so low in Orthodox countries? Is it because of the long time malign influence of Islam and communism, or fractures within Orthodoxy itself?

  2. I dont think the low fertility rate has to do with Orthodoxy. Probably communism and the fact that these are "old" industrialized countries. Even Italy has a ridiculously low birthrate. What I didnt mention in my post was that I can easily see Italy becoming a country similar to Turkey (secular muslim dominated). If Catholicism was a regional religion only located in countries like Italy and Spain, we would be on track to suffwer the same fate as Orthodoxy. But we are not! Ironically, we are more "Catholic". We have covered the globe. The future of Catholicism is growth in Africa and South America. The future of Orthodoxy is more decline in their corner of the world.

  3. If only those pesky orthodox would convert - that would fix those birth rates right up!

    Funny - they could say the same thing to the Catholics...

    Or you could look at Christendom in its entirety. That would be a mustard seed that covers the whole earth, and one worth bragging about. Oh, sorry, the Magistrate interprets that differently. All us protestants (or Orthodox) aren't apart of that boulder.

  4. We all recognize this is speculative, but none the less has a significant element of truth to it. Your argument is very strong since nothing short of a miracle could stop this trend.

    No doubt secularism and communism absolutely devastated Eastern Europe for over 75 years (as well as other nations), and this spells serious problems for the EO.

  5. RMBIV,

    "If only those pesky orthodox would convert - that would fix those birth rates right up!"

    Not necessarily. First off, it is fertility rate, not birth rate we are talking about, second it is probably a cultural thing. An Orthodox in Belarus who has no children would probably not start having them merely from converting to Catholicism. Although if they obeyed the Catholic teaching on contraception they would, so who knows. So yeah, I agree, they should convert.

    No, you are not visibly a part of the boulder. I know you believe in an invisible boulder, but forgive me for not pretending with you that the Church is an invisible joke.

    The magistERIUM does interpret that differently. As would the Westminster divines, Calvin, Luther, etc. Unlike modern Protestants like you, they actually believed in a visible Church outside of which there is no salvation.
    Perhaps I am wrong about the Catholic Church being THE visible Church. Of course I dont think I am, but I havent seen any evidence that would lead me to believe otherwise. Least of all from you dude. If I were to be proved wrong though, that would not mean I would have your loose, imaginary, and unbiblical view of the Church. The Church has a single visible structure. Nothing could be clearer from Scripture and Tradition.

  6. I was thinking about this a lot last night and I realized that just as there are a large percentage of "Catholics in name only" (sadly) there are a large percentage of "EO in name only". Thus, all the numbers should actually be scaled down, say from 230 million to more like 100 million actual EO believers. So this is why it's good you brought up the "religiousity" of areas and not just sheer numbers.

  7. Nick,
    Yes! That is exactly why I brought up "religiosity". Yes, of course Catholics have the same problem, but it is simply LESS of a problem in places like the Philippines and Brazil. I just dont see many places like that in Orthodoxy. Your scale is pretty accurate also. Some estimates I found online said that out of 80 million Russian Orthodox in Russia, only 5% call themselves observant. Ouch.

  8. This data is fucked up. The guy who made this website, did not take into account the millions of Eastern Orthodox Christians that have moved to the west and that are not forming strong Orthodox populations in Western Europe. Orthodoxy is growing in the USA, Italy, Germany, Spain and the UK due to immigration.

  9. Kalashnikov,

    By your name and the profanity you have no trouble using, I assume you are one of the Russians in the "least religious" category of the above chart.
    Which proves my point!: Russians and Eastern Europeans (82% of Orthodoxy) do not care about religion.

    you said:
    "The guy who made this website, did not take into account the millions of Eastern Orthodox Christians that have moved to the west and that are not forming strong Orthodox populations in Western Europe."

    The populations you mention are so small as to be statistically almost entirely insignificant. Look at the data my friend.
    And I think you mean Eastern Europe? Assuming that is what you meant, how did I not take this into account? Orthodox are between 1% and 5% of population in the US and Canada. And they arent forming strong communities here either. No one in Westernized countries is. Not even the Catholics.
    If you read my article, particularly the beginning section which just gives raw statistics, you will see that 82% (130 million people) of Orthodoxy is in Russia and eastern Europe.
    This is simply a fact.

    What is also simply a fact is that these countries have the lowest fertility rates in the entire world.
    This also is a fact.

    All the immigration of Orthodox to other culturally westernized countries does not matter. Why? Because those countries also have low fertility rates and are among the "least religious" countries in the world. And I include Catholics in this as well. Catholics in the west are failing too. Italy is shrinking and hasd a weak faith. The US is on the brink of having a non-replacement level fertility rate and has MILLIONS of Catholics who are weak in their faith and don't really care.
    So this is a western problem.

    My main point of this article was to show that the futiure demographics of Orthodoxy look grim, while the Catholic demographics look hopeful. Nothing you have said refutes my claim. And please refrain from the use of profanity on my blog.

    Peace to you.

    David Meyer

  10. Why would an Orthodox person "convert" to the Church of Rome? The liturgy in Catholic churches is a mess, all modern music with a Protestant liturgy, Communion in hand, altar girls, no icons or statues. The Orthodox Church does not bend or give in to modernism. It is lasting. Rome split from the Orthodox Catholic Church early on with its innovations. Know your history!

    1. Nice straw men. I could use them for Halloween to scare off children.

      There are reasons why people would convert from Catholic To Orthodox and vice versa. If you cant think of any reasons, then you are not competent to speak on the issue and honestly it just makes Orthodoxy look bad.

      I do applaud the Orthodox for many of the reasons you mention, and I really admire the Orthodox Church (Orthodoxy was a very close second on my list of where to go from Protestantism). A few of my Protestant friends converted to Orthodoxy, a few to Catholicism. I understand both. Your attitude is obnoxious, and your arguments are utterly laughable straw men, which unfortunately I find is often the case with Orthodox apologetic I have come across.

      The parish I go to has none of the things you mention, as it is an Extraordinary Form parish. Not as if it did it would matter, because abuse does not negate the proper use of something.

      Altar girls, as much of an abuse as they are, do not constitute the vicar of Christ declaring something contrary to the teaching of the apostles.

      The fact that there are problems in the Catholic Church proves it is made of humans. If there were doctrinal problems involving the popes teaching office, then you would have a case against the Catholic Church...

      But of course you didnt bring up any doctrinal problems involving the successor of Peter teaching error with all his authority.

      And you cant because there are no examples of that ever happening.

      And that is why I am Catholic. And right or wrong, it is a reason many converts find convincing. Yet you seem clueless as to this reason.

      Oh, and please, lets talk about how global Orthodoxy (even in its leadership and doctrine) has CAVED to the culture of death by allowing contraception, and then you can tell me all about how the "Church of Rome" has caved to modernism.

      And try to get a definitive answer on the question of contraception from the Orthodox Church... like nailing jello to a tree. Again... that is why I am Catholic... Christs Church teaches on grave matters definitively so there is no confusion.

      I encourage you to at least try to understand why honest, intelligent people would choose to be Catholic. If you cant see why they would, you cant even enter the debate. A debate requires understanding the opponent.



  11. Hi! Interesting post from a long time ago! I appreciate the factual information! I'm a Greek and though the Russians are breeding again, my people are dying out from history completely. I'm hoping to try and find some hope from history, but it looks like this problem is an old one for us and our reckoning has been a long time coming sadly.

    Regarding what other commentators have pointed out regarding the roman catholic liturgy, I would argue that logical fallacies (strawman) aren't the same thing as simple pattern recognition. We see this very often with cries of slippery slope, but I believe, from my admittedly anecdotal experience in the Americas, that Roman Catholic liturgies range a wide variety from the absurd to the heretical to the traditional to the... Orthodox (Byzantine Catholic). The wide range of liturgies is especially depressing after experiencing our own version of the Western Rite; presumably this is what your own parish is closest to since I believe we modeled our Western Rite off of the latin.

    Regarding contraception, I hope I can convey some insight to you on how we (Orthodox) have viewed these issues for however long we've thought this way (presumably since the beginning).

    To the point, unless an ecumenical council takes a stand on an issue, we don't recognize it as an issue that is settled (if it even needs to be settled at all for that matter). Unfortunately, this means that contraception methods which don't explicitly murder a fetus are tolerated in most regions. This is definitely a drawback of such a system to be sure!

    At the same time, it also ensures that we change as little as possible—we would say completely unchanging barring divine revelation on how to perform a liturgy correctly. This is a huge advantage as it means our Tradition doesn't come under the same assaults that the Roman Catholic church has had to endure in the last century. I haven't learned your position on these assaults, but I assume it is the same as many other traditional Roman Catholics who hope to win back the Church from what they perceive to be an infiltration.

    Back to the point, I like to liken Orthodoxy as a distributed brain, like how an Octopus' work. You can change a part with heresy/schism but the greater organism survives with its "personality" intact. It either discards or corrects the offending part. This creates a situation where patriarchs are treated as "bishops with more administrative duties" and a laity which regularly and publicly disagrees with the ecumenical patriarch (who is more of a bishop diplomat than a "pope" analog).

    I like to think of the papal version of this sort of analogy as being closer to a human brain where changes to the brain change the entire organism. So, for example, a change in popes can drastically change doctrine (but hopefully not ever dogma).

    Of note, this also helps to explain our complete disregard of Rome as anything other than just another (now schism'd) patriarchate. Without consensus, nothing can be accomplished in Orthodoxy—see the latest council we tried to put together for a dramatic example of such nothing! This means that papal authority is non-existent to us and has always been so (we even moved the primacy to Constantinople and now the rumblings are indicating Moscow).

    At any rate, I appreciate your analysis; unfortunately, the farther back I dig, the more certain I am that these numbers will continue to paint a bleak picture for Greeks, but at least the Russians seem to be reversing the trend since the time this was researched.

    1. Wow, what a level headed and well informed comment. Especially compared to the previous comment today.
      I like your octopus brain/human brain analogies for our churches, very well done. And I think you sum up the pitfalls of both quite well. Of course I still see the papacy in the Tradition, and it also stands to reason that there should be a single "principal of unity" in the church above whom there is no bishop (at least in certain instances of his authority).

      And I do think you downplay the problem the Orthodox have with contraception. Evern your explaination is (sorry to say) quite modernistic in mentioning only contraception that kills being wrong. Contraception is antithetical to Christian faith in every case, not just the ones that kill. But I digress.

      The straw men I was referring to are in Thom's comment from earlier. Saying an Orthodox would not convert to Catholic because of communion in the hand and altar girls is a straw man fallacy, implying a very simple choice based on very surface observations not having to do with doctrine other than them being the abuse of practices rooted in good doctrine. Saying someone would clearly not want to convert for such simplistic and surface reasons is a clear straw man, on the level with someone saying they would "obviously" never become Orthodox because they use leavened bread... of course. It just oversimplifies things to a ridiculous degree.

      I thought you were overly charitable about the Catholic Church. I think it is in much worse shape (particularly in the US) than you noted. Compared to what it once was, it is basically dead, and the abuse is so rampant, with almost no priests that even bother to care, it is quite sad.
      But again, even if the pope himself were a pimp (such things have happened), I would still be Catholic because of the papal office and protection from error. I was convinced of those doctrines from Scripture and Tradition, so I must in good conscience be Catholic.

      I was interested to hear things might be changing demographically in Russia. That would be really good news. I haven't looked into this in depth since I wrote this a full 5 years ago. Hopefully they are starting to become more religious and breed, that would be great news. And it would be really great news for Orthodoxy.