The U.S. fertility rate has now hit the lowest ever figures in American history, according to newly released provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control.  The figures show a further 2% drop from 1.7655 children per woman in 2017 to 1.728 children per women in 2018. 

The rate is again well under the normal “replacement rate” of 2.1 children per woman over the course of her life.  The continued decline means that demographers are losing hope that the rate will increase because women who might have been delaying having children until later in life will “catch up”.  Instead, it is increasingly looking like low birth rates are here to stay (fertility in the U.S. has been below the replacement rate since 1972).

By age, birth rates in 2018:

  • Dropped 7% for teenagers
  • Dropped 4% for women aged 20-24,
  • Dropped 3% for women aged 25-29,
  • Dropped 1% for women aged 30-34,
  • Increased 1% for women aged 35-35,
  • Increased 2% for women aged 40-44, and
  • Was unchanged for women 45 and older.

Are smaller families of 0, 1, or 2 children simply the new norm of choice?  Or would American women genuinely like to have more babies, but are struggling with issues such as fertility, finances and support? 

The increasing age of first-time mothers certainly won't be helping due to unexpected infertility and less time to have further children.

It is also likely that the rising cost of raising children is at least a factor, along with expectations of more intensive parenting practices.  The United States is the only remaining industrialized country in the world that does not offer some form of paid maternal leave. All OECD countries except the U.S. provide at least 12 weeks paid maternal leave and most countries provide additional paid parental leave on top of that as well.  Since Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), Americans have been allowed to take up to 12 weeks unpaid leave to care for a new child. 

Though, it can’t be all down to finances, because declining birth rates are a worldwide phenomenon, with many countries bending over backwards with financial policies to support families to have more babies and still not having much luck.  Though perhaps more countries coud support the family unit as a whole, through policies such as income-splitting.

Is it time for America to have a closer look at its fertility problem?

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...