After a number of years in which it seemed as if the USA was demographically different from other western nations, it seems as if the new world is starting to emulate the old. For the fourth straight year, the number of births in the USA has fallen. Last year there were 3,788,235 births across the USA, the lowest number since 1986. Since this is from a much larger population, the total fertility rate (TFR) in 2018 (1.728 babies per woman) was actually the lowest on record. The USA is still higher than many western European nations, but its TFR is becoming much more European. In short, the USA is failing to reproduce itself. (The TFR needed for a population to reproduce itself is around 2.1 children per woman.)
The number of births has declined across all age-bearing ranges except the oldest. The teen birth rate declined by seven percent (to a new record low number of teen births), the birth rate for those aged 20 to 24 dropped four per cent, for those aged 25 to 29 it dropped by three per cent and for those aged 30 to 34 it dropped by one per cent. Conversely, for those women aged 35 to 39 the birth rate rose one per cent while for those aged 40 to 44 it increased by two per cent. But the minor increases at the older end of the spectrum was disproportionality outweighed by the decline in women aged under 35 in which, far and away, the largest number of babies are born. Broken down by race, the decline was uniform: small declines were recorded for Latinos, whites, blacks and Asians. The number of babies born to native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders was stable.
Once again there is a debate about whether this decline is permanent or merely temporary. Are women putting off having children indefinitely? Or are they delaying childbearing while the economy recovers? Of course blaming the economy is becoming harder to do: the GFC was over a decade ago and GDP and wages are growing. If anything, the economy would suggest that the birth rates should be increasing. As Kenneth M Johnson, a demographer at the University of Hampshire noted in response to the 2018 figures: “I keep expecting to see the birth rates go up and then they don’t.” He estimates that if the pre-recession birth rates had continued, there would have been an additional 5.7 million babies born in the last decade. Instead there are, in his words, “a lot of empty kindergartens”. And if current trends continue, there will be labour shortages in the future and perhaps population decline.
Marcus Roberts is co-editor of Demography Is Destiny, MercatorNet's blog on population issues.