Birth Rates are Falling

babyU.S. birth rates aren’t just declining, they are in a free fall. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that birth rates fell to a new 30-year low in 2017, and this marks the third consecutive year that the numbers have gone down.

From the New York Times:

The fertility rate in the United States fell to a record low for a second straight year, federal officials reported Thursday, extending a deep decline that began in 2008 with the Great Recession.

The fertility rate fell to 60.2 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age, down 3 percent from 2016, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. It was the largest single-year decline since 2010, when families were still feeling the effects of a weak economy.

The country has been living through one of the longest declines in fertility in decades and demographers are trying to figure out what is driving it. Rates tend to drop during difficult economic times as people put off having babies, and then rise once the economy rebounds. But the rate has not recovered since the Great Recession. A brief uptick in 2014 did not last. The number of births has also declined, and last year was its lowest level since 1987. The fertility rate is the number of births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44.

American Health Line added, “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.”

USA Today looked at the question of what is driving the decline and came up with several possibilities.

One may be shifting attitudes about motherhood among millennials, who are in their prime child-bearing years right now. They may be more inclined to put off child-bearing or have fewer children, researchers said. 

Another may be changes in the immigrant population, who generate nearly a quarter of the babies born in the U.S. each year. For example, Asians are making up a larger proportion of immigrants, and they have typically had fewer children than other immigrant groups. also pointed out that a drop in birth rates can have significant implications for our economic wellbeing moving forward.

Take, for example, Social Security and Medicare. Both programs impose heavy fiscal burdens on society. Much of this cost is workforce related and paid through taxes tied to earnings and income.

The significant reduction in fertility in the U.S., if not offset by enhanced immigration or greater worker productivity, puts these programs at risk. But productivity growth over the last decade has lagged the improvements seen in previous recoveries, and the prospects for increasing immigration seem dim.

Our country was once one of the few developed countries with a birth rate that ensured each generation had enough children to replace it. However, the current rate in the U.S. is now below the standard benchmark for replacement.

Some may argue that the current birth rate could eventually wreak havoc on our economy, while others may say the record low fertility rate for teenagers (aged 15–19) is a good thing. We’d love to hear what you think. Driving conversations around the important health issues making headlines is another way we are working toward our long-term goal of one day making Arizona the Healthiest State in the Nation!

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