Apparently many believed that the United States birth rate would recover once the economy does.  However, now that the economy and average wages are indeed starting to go up, it seems that the fertility rate remains stubbornly low. 

Many commentators are surprised that the birth rate has been found to have again dropped to a historic low in 2013.  The crude birthrate—the number of births each year per thousand women ages 15-44—fell to 62.5 in 2013, which is the lowest level ever recorded.   Commentators are starting to wonder if more than the economy might be at play here.  Forbes reports: “What concerns experts is not the fall itself, but the fact that it accelerated when we were supposedly experiencing an economic recovery”. 

A decrease in immigration levels might be partly to blame for this post-recession drop.  It has been immigrants that have been sustaining US fertility rates – and indeed the overall population of most Western countries – and in recent years there have been less and less coming to the US.  The number of persons obtaining legal permanent resident status peaked in 2006 at 1.3 million— and has since fallen to just under 1.0 million in 2013.  Net unauthorized immigration also fell, and the overall number in the country actually fell too because of large numbers of Mexican immigrants leaving to go back to Mexico – another new phenomenom.

Regular readers of this blog will also know that birth rates have been declining for decades independent of what the economy is doing at any one time.  In the circles I see, the more common smaller families become, the more people see two children as the ‘normal’ number of children to have.  To say you are considering even four children tends to raise most people’s eyebrows these days, with most congratulating your courage and stamina.  Also, often people are now so much older when they have their first child that they don’t have time to have very many.  I don’t think this has as much to do with the recession as what couples – and woman in particular in terms of career – expect out of life, and how children fit into that. 

However, even if smaller family sizes are here to stay, some are hopeful of a fertility rebound for the US in the future.  Forbes further notes;

Possible evidence of this is the fact that nearly all of the recent fertility decline has been among women under age 30—those who presumably believe that they can afford to wait. What’s more, polls find that Americans without kids “want to have children someday” even more than they did before the recession.

Let’s hope that they don’t have to leave it too late.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...