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Lowest-ever fertility rates have complicated causes, no easy solutions, experts say

Fertility rates in the United States have fallen to an all-time low, according to provisional figures released by the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics.

According to an early statistical release from the NCHS in May, the total fertility rate, or average number of children born per woman, stands at 1.7, the lowest ever and well below the demographic replacement bar of 2.1.

In 2018, less than 3.8 million children born in the country. Since a peak in 2007, birth rates have fallen in all but one of the last 11 years. The results also show a continued trend of lower fertility among younger women over the last decade.

The data comes amid warnings from experts about the economic and social consequences of the continued decline. At the same time, the same experts say that the complicated causes of ever-lower fertility mean there are no clear or easy ways of reversing the trend.

Causes and effects

While the statistics underline a stark trend, experts emphasize that there is no single root cause behind the general decline.

In the past, women in their 20s have had the highest birth rate. But since 1968, the average age of a first-time mother has increased by more than five years, from 21.4 to 26.8.

Last year, childbirth rates among women aged 20-24 dropped 4%, and 3% among women aged 25-29. In 2018, women aged 30-34 had a higher birthrate than those aged 25-29 – marking the first time women in their early thirties were the leading age demographic for the number of children born.

Johnathan V. Last, author of the book “What to Expect When No One is Expecting,” points to a complex of social factors which, he says, contribute to the numbers of women having fewer children later in life.

“Many of the reasons people are having children later are good and reasonable. Look at the drop in fertility among 20-24 year-olds: that’s in large part down to the number of people now attending college, and people just don’t tend to get married and start families while they are in college,” Last told CNA.

Last also pointed out that while the broader trends all point in a single direction, individual section of society had outsized influence. “What we are seeing is record fertility lows coming off of what is essentially a drop among a single cohort, which is Hispanic-Americans.”

“If you look at the data, among white and African-Americans the fertility rates are broadly constant in their decline. What we are seeing is that Hispanics are arriving in the US with higher fertility rates that are dropping much faster than many expected, even within a generation or two.”

Dr. Catherine Pakaluk, Assistant Professor of Social Research and Economic thought at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that changes in the use of contraception could also be a factor.

Read more at Catholic News Agency

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