The story of changing fertility and demographic structures is continuing to gain media attention in the US. The Pew Research centre has crunched the numbers from a recent UN report, the World Fertility Report 2012.   

According to the UN’s data, US women who are coming to the end of their childbearing years (40-44 years old) are among the most likely to have to childless compared to similar cohorts around the world.  Among 118 countries with comparable data, only six have higher childless rates than the US’s 19%.  So nearly a fifth of all women in the US in the 40-44 year old age category do not have children, and are unlikely to do so. It would be interesting to note how many of these women made a conscious decision to not have children, how many put the decision off until it was too late, and how many women wanted to but could not for whatever reason.

The US is still someway off the top of the childless list though:

 “Singapore tops the list, with a childless rate of 23%, followed by Austria, the U.K., Finland, Bahrain, and Canada. Liberia and Congo report childlessness rates below 2%, although the UN states that childlessness typically doesn’t dip below 3%, so these values should be viewed cautiously.”

Not unexpectedly, with childless rates so high, the US is near the bottom of the list when it comes to the average number of children that 40-44 year old women have.  At 1.9 children per woman, only 19 out 171 countries report lower rates than the states.  Germany and Ukraine are on the bottom with just 1.6 children per woman, while 40-44 year olds in Niger will have had 7.8 children on average. Of course, this average number of children will decline for many countries for the 40-44 year old age bracket as the current low fertility rates are reflected.

Interestingly, the US is smack-bang in the middle when it comes to the age at which women have their first child.  The median age at first birth is 25 years for US women.  The ages range from 18 years for new mothers in Angola to 31 years for new mothers in Switzerland, Sweden and the Netherlands. I’m sure that there is a large variety in that statistic; women in differing economic, educational and ethnic groups would report vastly different ages for first births.  25 years old actually seems quite young to me – I didn’t have many friends at all when I was 25 having babies. Certainly later twenties was the norm as far as I was concerned. 

The saddest statistic is that over 40% of all US births are out of wedlock.  And what is worse, is that in terms of the world ranking, it’s nowhere near the top of the list! With 40% of non-marital births, the US is only 49 out of 91 countries with comparable data! I was shocked that the figure was so high at 41% and even more shocked that this is not among the top rates in the world! The social cost that will attend societies having nearly half of their children born outside the stability of marriage and seeing loving committed couples will be seen over the coming decades. I can’t imagine that it will be slight. And for an interesting analysis on US’ extra-marital births and the effect of liberal and conservative policies upon their rate I would recommend this article by the excellent Ross Douthat in the New York Times. He argues that both economic policies and a societal shift is needed to support families and children in the US. I can imagine that his views won’t go down well with his fellow columnists!

Marcus Roberts

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...