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(LifeSiteNews) — The U.S. birth rate hit a record low last year of 1.62 births per woman according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), part of a worldwide trend of declining birth rates that have been shown to stem from rising childlessness.

The U.S. has had birth rates mostly below replacement level since 1972, according to United Nations (U.N.) data, with a minor brief respite from 2006 to 2007, when birth rates were just at replacement level. Birth rates hovered near replacement level from about 1989 to its recent peak of 2.11 births per woman in 2007. Since then, the birth rate has steadily declined.

The new CDC data shows that the birth rate for women ages 20 to 24 has seen a particularly steep decline of 47 percent since 2007. From 2022 to 2023 alone, the number of births for this age group dropped 4 percent.

As data analyst Stephen Shaw has documented in his film “Birthgap,” declining birth rates not just in the U.S. but around the world are being driven not by smaller family sizes but by an “explosion” in childlessness.

By comparing statistics on first-time mothers and the number of children they go on to have with national fertility rates, Shaw found that childlessness rates skyrocketed within only a few years in many countries.

For example, in Japan in 1974, one in 20 women were childless. By 1977, this ratio was one in four, and by 1990, it had reached one in three, a statistic that held in 2020. While Shaw doesn’t give specific numbers for most countries, he shares that most have become, like Italy and Japan, “childless nations,” where one-third or more people will become “childless for life.”

And according to the Pew Research Center, by 2010, “Nearly one-in-five American women end(ed) her childbearing years without having borne a child, compared with one-in-10 in the 1970s.” As of 2018, 41 percent of women between the ages of 25 and 44 were single and childless, and that number is projected to spike to a whopping 45 percent by 2030.

Just as remarkable as this trend is the finding in a Dutch meta-analysis, cited by author Jody Day in Shaw’s “Birthgap” film, and using data from the early 2000s, that only 10 percent of such women are childless “by choice,” and another 10 percent are childless due to “known” medical reasons, including infertility.

Institute for Family Studies (IFS) confirmed in December 2022 that the majority of childless women actually desire children. Thus, as Shaw summed up in his film, the main driver of childless women around the world now is failing to “find the right partner at the right time.”

Shaw highlighted what appear to be contributing factors: childbearing is delayed until a woman’s fertility window closes; women tend to want to settle with men at least as educated as they are, and everywhere, significantly more women are attending college than men; there are “too many options;” a number of young men are staying at home playing video games instead of pursuing women (or have given up on that).

There are a few potentially important cultural factors, however, that Shaw does not explore, including the changed sexual dynamics and culture triggered by the onset of the contraceptive pill (including feminist attitudes), that rippled around the world even where the pill was not yet legalized and are arguably responsible for the lack of rebound in birth rates after the oil shock of 1973.

Many speculate that increased pornography use and addiction is disincentivizing young men’s pursuit of women, and that overuse of technology is leading many young men and women to live isolated from each other.

The increasing secularization of society may also lead to growing numbers of childless women (and men) through a whole slew of hard-to-quantify factors, including by diminishing young people’s sense of purpose and happiness, and depriving them of character formation and a meaningful, effective way to select a mate.

Commentators such as Elon Musk have warned that if global birth rates continue to decline at their current projected rates, “human civilization will end.”