The birth rate in the United States has fallen to a 30-year low, as the U.S. joins much of the rest of the developed world in what BBC News calls a “cultural shift away from motherhood.” Similarly, the fertility rate in the U.S. (a similar but slightly different statistic) has also been falling precipitously.
The Raw Numbers
Some 3.85 million babies were born in the U.S. in 2017, the fewest since 1987. What’s more, the population of the country was quite a bit lower then: 242.3 million then vs. 325.7 million now. That means that when the numbers are crunched, not only is there a pronounced decrease in the overall number of babies being born, but in the number of live births per thousand people (that is, the birth rate). That translates to an overall birth rate of 60.2 in the U.S. in 2017, down from 62.0 in 2016, and, like the number of births, the lowest it’s been since the Reagan era.
Also down is the fertility rate. Though it sounds similar to the birth rate, the fertility rate is slightly different: it’s a forecast of how many babies a woman will have in her lifetime. That rate, too, has fallen to the lowest it’s been in decades: 1.75, the lowest it’s been since 1978.
So What’s Going On?
There are a multitude of reasons for the decline in birth rates, spanning culture, economics, demographics, and even medical care.
In the main, however, BBC News points to what it calls a “cultural shift away from motherhood.” In other words, fewer women are having babies, instead focusing on their careers or the non-parent lifestyle. Those women that do have babies tend to have them later in life — after college and a few years in the workforce — and have fewer. This is borne out by the fact that, among women aged 40-44, both the birth rate and fertility rate are actually rising, not falling.
There may also be a political reason as well, says Donna Strobino of Johns Hopkins University. She notes that the U.S., unlike literally every other country in the western world, does not mandate paid maternity leave. That makes it more difficult for working women to have babies.
“And in the absence of policies that really help women who are working to really take some time off post-partum you are probably going to see a continuation of this delay.”
So What Does This Mean?
In the U.S., not much. While other developed nations are actively encouraging their women to have babies, such as Poland, which produced the video below in order to encourage Polish women to “breed like rabbits,” the U.S. is not in such a hurry.
While a steady increase in population is necessary to fill the tax rolls, care for the elderly, and put bodies into the workforce, what the U.S. lacks in births it more than makes up for in immigration. Or, as William Frey of the Brookings Institute put it rather succinctly, “The country isn’t going to run out of people.”