People in the United States are having fewer children and later in life, mirroring a trend in many developed nations. The U.S. birthrate is currently less than it was in the 1980s, and this raw data has demographers and sociologists speculating as to why and what it means.
Both national and local news outlets have covered the potential reasons behind the decline, and how not having enough people to hold up our current economic model could spell disaster. Or not. It depends on your outlook.
This “Baby Bust” edition of Making the News captures the last year of coverage on the demographic shift, and some of the perspectives that researchers and other pundits are sharing.
Historically, birthrates reflect economic prosperity, so when money is tight people hold off on having kids. We saw this in the wake of the Great Recession, with a deep decline starting around 2008. When the economy began to recover, however, the birthrate continued to decline, causing demographers to scratch their heads. We are now in a 30-year low, despite a period of economic prosperity. Is this so-called “Baby Bust” a cause for concern? Or not that big of a deal?
On the concern side, a weak workforce can’t support the Social Security system, creating a crisis for aging populations. Also, school systems receive funding based on number of students, so fewer students means less funding, and the potential shuttering of schools.
While there is no single, definitive reason for the downturn, one piece of disaggregated data shows that efforts to reduce teen pregnancy are working. This is a good thing, but it has an undeniable effect on the national birthrate. Down 72% since 1991, teen pregnancy is at the lowest rate since the government began collecting data.
On the other end of the spectrum, the number of women having children later in life has shown a slight uptick, indicating that women want to establish a career before having kids (editor’s note: like men, for generations). Overall, the numbers are still declining, with many women in their 20s and 30s choosing not to have children.
[Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Birth Rates Report 2017]
The possible social and economic forces behind the decline include the high cost of child care, poor family leave policies and even climate change. The New York Times conducted a survey of 1,858 men and women ages 20–45 to try to understand the numbers and found that most people who said they didn’t want to have children did so because they wanted more leisure time; additionally, people with fewer children than they wanted cited the cost of child care and wanting to spend more time with the kids they did have.
Prominent demographer Dowell Meyers ominously said in an interview with NPR, “the birthrate is a barometer of despair,” explaining that young people won’t make plans to have babies unless they are optimistic about the future.
As policy makers shape how society supports the children we do have, it’s important to stay informed about the factors that are influencing birthrates, and their potential impact on the future.
To assist you, our readers, in learning more about this topic we have compiled a library of article links below that are organized by month. We hope you find this comprehensive list of news coverage and reports helpful.
According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017 the birthrate fell for nearly every group of women of reproductive age in the U.S., reflecting a sharp drop that saw the fewest newborns since 1987. (Chappell, 5/17/18)
With its third annual decline in a row, statistics showed that the U.S. birth rate is at its lowest in three decades. But why are Americans having fewer babies? (Meyer, 7/6/18)
The U.S. fertility rate is at a record low. Researchers are quick to look to the economy as explanation, yet the falling rate has persisted despite the recovery. (Brown, 7/7/18)
Women have more options, for one. But a new poll also shows that financial insecurity is altering a generation’s choices. (Miller, 7/5/18)
The fertility rate in the United States fell to a record low for a second straight year, federal officials reported, extending a deep decline that began in 2008 with the Great Recession. (Tavernise, 7/16/18)
The federal government now spends less than it did about 30 years ago on some of the country’s poorest children, the result of cuts to federal welfare programs, according to a new research paper. (Stein, 7/16/18)
As 2017 drew to a close, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wisconsin) urged Americans to have more children. To keep the country great, he said, we’re “going to need more people.” (Cha, 10/19/18)
The total fertility rate, which estimates the average number of children a woman could expect to have over her lifetime at current birth rates, is below the “replacement rate” for fertility at 1.76 births per woman. (C.K., 10/31/18)
Declining U.S. births and immigration might lead to school closures but could also mean more Pre-K spots. (Barshay, 11/26/18)
The U.S. birth rate has dipped to an all-time low, and projections show a potentially grim effect on schools: The number of public school students could drop by 8.5% by 2028. (Campisi, 11/27/18)
Policymakers must confront the reality that all our long-term obligations will have to be financed with substantially fewer people (or, perhaps, substantially more immigrants) than most actuarial projections assume. (Stone, 12/17/18)
The number of babies born in 2017 was the lowest in 30 years, but some states were much more fertile than others. (Abbott, 1/10/19)
The total fertility rate for the United States in 2017 continued to dip below what’s needed for the population to replace itself, according to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics. (Howard, 1/10/19)
When sociology professor Caitlyn Collins set out to interview 135 middle-class women in Sweden, Germany, Italy and the U.S. about how they make motherhood work with their careers, she was surprised by what set American women apart. (Forde, 1/12/19)
Though the report doesn’t speculate about why fertility rates have been falling, other researchers have posited that cultural shifts, economic anxiety and a slew of other factors likely all play a role. (Wheeling, 1/11/19)
As the U.S. population ages and the country’s number of births continues to fall, just two states in 2017 met a fertility benchmark that’s considered the level needed for a population to replace itself, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Galvin, 1/11/19)
Whether it is economic insecurity, changing values or a young adult population that prioritizes their education over having children, the fact remains that Americans are having fewer babies. (1/22/19)
Americans have been having fewer babies for several years now, especially since the Great Recession. The CDC report showing that fertility rates are at record lows didn’t surprise economists or demographers. (1/25/19)
When this 28-year-old nurse and her husband learned last year that she was pregnant with their first child, they were thrilled, and they were petrified. (Sharma, 1/30/19)
Over the last decade, the U.S. fertility rate has dipped to its lowest point in history. Economists expected a short decline in the number of births during the Great Recession, but they believed we would start making kids again once the economy recovered. (Rosalsky, 2/12/19)
The Hill: With low birth rate, America needs future migrants
America’s challenge — if it wants to remain a superpower — is not to build walls and restrict migrant flow excessively, as the Trump administration insists, but rather to properly manage a more generous migrant flow so that its population continues to grow. (Zilian, 2/25/19)
It’s not easy to surprise demographers, given the long timelines with which they work. But back in 2007, when the number of babies born in the U.S. hit the all-time high of 4.32 million, topping even the baby boom peak, few could foresee the baby bust that was about to come. (Petrilli, 4/1/19)
The U.S. birth rate hit a 32-year low in 2018, which could spell trouble for popular social programs for older Americans like Social Security and Medicare. (De Lea, 5/15/19)
There were more than 3.7 million estimated births in 2018, down 2% from the year before, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. (Keshner, 5/15/19)
USA Today: Why the US birthrate hitting a 32-year low could become a big problem
The birthrate in the U.S. hit a 32-year low last year as the number of babies born dropped for the fourth straight year, said federal health officials. (Miller, 5/15/19)
The U.S. birthrate fell again in 2018, to 3,788,235 births — representing a 2% drop from 2017. It’s the lowest number of births in 32 years, according to a new federal report. The numbers also sank the U.S. fertility rate to a record low. (Chappell, 5/15/19)
With American women increasingly delaying having children, fewer U.S. babies were born in 2018 than in any year since 1986, according to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). (Ducharme, 5/15/19)
The numbers are part of a decades-long trend toward fewer and fewer babies being born each year — which means we’re getting further away from the possibility of having enough children to replace ourselves. (Carroll, 5/14/19)
The number of babies born in the country has dropped four years in a row, a new CDC report says. (Galvin, 5/15/19)
Many women may not be abstaining from having children, but simply delaying it. (Wong, 5/17/19)
Well after the U.S.-China trade fight is history, America’s economy will still be living with the consequences of a fertility slump. (Sparshott, 5/15/19)
Birth rates hit record lows; the need for new people has never been greater. (Freeman, 5/15/19)
America is going through a baby bust, with the number of births dipping to a 32-year low. (Picchi, 5/15/19)
Profound cultural shifts can’t be overcome by pro-natalist subsidies. (Editorial Board, 5/28/19)
The U.S. fertility rate has reached a record low, and the total number of births in 2018 was the lowest it has been in more than 30 years, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control. (Kight, 5/15/19)
The United States is confronted by its lowest number of births in 32 years, according to provisional data released by the National Center for Health Statistics. (Patino, 5/14/19)
U.S. birth rates hit their lowest point in 32 years in 2018, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (Budryk, 5/15/19)
The reasons are plenty: aftereffects from the Great Recession, fewer teenage pregnancies, prohibitive child care costs, concerns over climate change and political strife, and different priorities among millennials. (Johnson, 5/17/19)
Thoughts about retirement policy from an actuary’s perspective. (Bauer, 5/15/19)
It’s not entirely clear why fertility rates rise and fall. (MacNamara, 5/26/19)
As scientists continue to punch out increasingly apocalyptic warnings about the state of the planet, and feelings of “eco-anxiety” rise, it’s perhaps not surprising that some people have started to question whether they want to bring a child into the world. (Paddison, 7/1/19)