The U.S. government announced last week that the country's fertility rate has fallen for the fourth year in a row — with only 59.1 births for every 1,000 women of childbearing age. The birth rate has been in steady decline since the Great Recession of 2008 and continues to hit record lows. It has fallen by about 15% since 2007, and remains well under the normal “replacement rate” of 2.1 children per woman over the course of her life. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its final National Vital Statistics Report on November 27, confirming a May interim report.
A historian writing in The Atlantic makes some interesting observations:
“As demographic anxiety goes global and populist, a roiling debate is forming around basic questions: Why do some people want children, while others do not? Why do some societies seem to be shrinking? Can a progressive, reproductive-freedom-embracing society survive over time? Or is it doomed to a slow, comfortable death?
It’s impossible to address these questions without taking a long view.
The continuing decline is causing demographers to lose hope that the rate will soon 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).
It seems at least some of the drop in fertility can be put down to significant and unprecedented social change; There is a steady trend of later and later marriage and childbearing. The only age groups that recorded increases in fertility rates in 2018 were women in their late 30s and early 40s; The number of births to women in these age groups rose 2%. Americans are also postponing marriage until much later than ever before, with the average age of a first marriage for women now 28.
Actuary, Elizabeth Bauer, concludes:
“…we still simply don't know what the fertility rate will look like in the future, whether at some point we will finally reach some new stable level, or whether, like Finland (where the TFR dropped from 1.87 in 2010 to 1.35 in 2019), it will continue to collapse, and reach levels never envisioned in the U.S.”
What do we truly most value in society? Our families, our children, our work, our finances, travel…? It is worth thinking about, and acting on – least we become a society none of us envisioned or want.