US fertility rate hits all-time low
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Fertility rates in the United States are plummeting, driven primarily by non-Hispanic white women and Hispanic women who are bearing fewer children.
In a report released on Thursday, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that non-Hispanic white Americans are dying at a faster rate than they are being born for the second time in American history. Hispanic women are having fewer children, partially due to how economic weakness has slowed immigration.
Hispanics and whites make up approximately 80 percent of the nation's population, and their childbearing patterns weigh heavily on the nation's overall picture. Hispanics have seen their childbearing habits change dramatically over the last several years -- while the number of Hispanic women at childbearing age grew by approximately one-sixth from 2007 to 2012, the birth rate dropped by nearly one-fourth.
America's fertility rate is currently at just under 1.9, representing the number of children the average woman has in her lifetime. 2.1 children per woman over her lifetime is considered the replacement rate.
The U.S. has already reached an all-time low birth rate, which is calculated by looking at a snapshot of how many women of childbearing age have kids. Now, its fertility rate is at an all-time low as whites and Hispanics have fewer children. The so-called "baby bust" is being partially blamed on the 2007 to 2009 recession and the weak recovery since 2009.
In the short run, according to Census Bureau statistician and demographer Benjamin Bolender, Ph.D., the decline in the number of births began during the last recession. Census estimates show that "the number of births started declining between 2008 and 2009," Bolender told LifeSiteNews. "The high point since 2000 was between July 2007 and July 2008, where we saw just over 4.3 million births. If you are looking at crude birth rates (births / population), the pattern is fairly similar."
The bigger picture is far more worrisome, however. According to Heritage Foundation Policy Analyst Christine Kim, the "baby bust" started long ago, even before the last recession. Kim told LifeSiteNews that "for decades, birth rates have been declining, particularly among the twenty-something and teens (although birth rates have increased among women in their thirties and older)."
Anne Morse of the Population Research Institute likewise told LifeSiteNews in May that the birth rate "has been declining since the 1990s and even before. The average age at first childbirth increased by almost two years between today and 1990 from 24.2 years to 25.8 years of age."
Despite the improving economy Morse said that "the baby bust isn't over. Part of the uptick in fertility can be explained by the end of the recession. But the recession didn’t cause America’s below replacement fertility, and so the end of the recession won’t fix it. … America will – like Germany, Italy, and Japan – face an aging problem."
Kim says the aging problem will have both economic and cultural effects. "As researchers have noted, declining birth and fertility rates are worrying because it impacts the age structure of the population and its economic well-being. As the population ages, in the coming decades, more younger workers will be needed to support the retiring generations. Without sufficient younger workers, the burden on them and on the government will continue to grow, further enlarging the welfare state," says the conservative policy expert.
"Culturally," Kim warns, "as the younger generations delay and forgo marriage, have fewer children and have them outside of marriage, our ideals of the family, marriage, and having children will continue to change and erode, with lasting implications for individual and societal well-being.”
As Kim notes, women over the age of 30 are increasingly having more children, a reverse from their younger counterparts. However, the increase was not enough to offset the delay in childbearing from women under 30, which is at an all-time low. A 2011 Census analysis shows that more women than ever are ending their childbearing years, generally considered 15-44 years of age, childless.
Seven states saw age decreases, says the Census report. This was because of economics, Census Bureau Director John Thompson said in a statement. "The population in the Great Plains energy boom states is becoming younger and more male as workers move in seeking employment in the oil and gas industry, while the U.S. as a whole continues to age as the youngest of the baby boom generation enters their 50s," said Thompson.
Bolender says the transition of young people to oil-rich states "has nothing necessarily to do with the aging of the population in others. In general, causes of 'aging' include fewer deaths, fewer births, and/or different migration streams (either fewer younger people or more older people)."
"It can also be caused by a cohort effect," he says. "For example, the Baby Boom came from a huge increase in births between 1946 and 1964. As those people move into older ages (the youngest are entering their 50's), they can move the age distribution and make the population 'age.' The population in some states could get younger by drawing young migrants from other states, which would make them 'older,' but it's just as possible that states have an increase in births, an increase in deaths at older ages, a greater number or proportion of younger age migrants from other countries, or they could just have a different age structure."
America is also becoming more racially diverse, as the last members of the older, whiter Baby Boomer generation enter their fifties. Brookings Institution demographer William Frey told Al Jazeera that “in 26 states, the under-age-5 population is at least 40 percent minority."