Friday, May 18, 2018

U.S. Fertility Rate Fell to a Record Low, for a Second Straight Year

New York Times (May 16, 2018): U.S. Fertility Rate Fell to a Record Low, for a Second Straight Year, by Sabrina Tavernise:

For the second straight year, the fertility rate in the United States fell to a record low.  A country's fertility rate is the number of births per 1,000 women ages 15-44.  In 2017, the U.S. fertility rate was 60.2 births down 3% from 2016.  The number of births has also declined to its lowest level since 1987.

Fertility rates are essential measures of a society’s demographic balance. If they are too high, that can strain resources like housing and education. If they are too low, a country can face challenges replacing its work force and supporting its older adults, like in Russia and Japan. In the United States, declines in rates have not led to drops in the population, in part because they have been largely offset by immigration.

Fertility rates tend to drop during difficult economic times, but the U.S. fertility rate has not rebounded since a deep decline with the recession in 2008.  The continuing low birth rates puzzle demographers, especially since there are is a growing number of women of childbearing age.

“It’s hard to tell whether this is a dip that we periodically see in fertility or this is a long-term trend due to major social changes,” said Donna Strobino, a demographer at the Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

It could be that social forces are at work.  "Women are postponing marriage, becoming more educated and are more likely to be the primary breadwinners for their households." Women also may be delaying having children because "prime childbearing years" are crucial years for advancing careers. Currently, 1 in 5 births are to women 35 or older.  

The decline has disproportionately impacted minorities.  Between 2007 and 2016, the fertility rate for Hispanic women dropped more than 27%.  The rates for blacks and Asians dropped 11% and 5%, respectively, while the rate for whites dropped 4%.

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