U.S. Birth Rate Hits All Time Low—Total Fertility Rate Nearly At All Time Low


U.S. Fertility Rate Trend

The National Center for Health Statistics is reporting that the U.S. birth rate hit an all-time low in 2013. The agency reports that there were 3.93 million births in the United States in 2013, down less than 1% from 2012 and 9% from the recent 2007 high. The New York Times further reported

…the general fertility rate in the United States — the average number of babies women from 15 to 44 bear over their lifetime — dropped to a record low last year, to 1.86 babies, well below the 2.1 needed for a stable population. For every 1,000 women ages 15 to 44, there were 62.5 births in 2013, compared with 63 the previous year.

The Times cites experts who suggest that the decline in births stems in large measure from post-Great Recession economic concerns.

In fact, the only years in which that the U.S. general fertility rate was lower than 1.86 occurred during the 1970s when the rate fell to 1.74 births in 1976. It is notable that the 1970s were also a time of considerable economic disarray. Analysts cited by the Times suggest that the fertilty rate will bounce back once the economic situation improves just as it did when the memories of Jimmy Carter began fading away.

I would suggest that there are good reasons to doubt that prognostication, not least of which is the strong correlation between higher percentages of educated women and lower overall fertility. For example, American women today earn around 60 percent of all college degrees. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes by 27 years of age, 32 percent of women had received a bachelor's degree, compared with 24 percent of men.

The Census Bureau reported in 2011 that college-educated women delayed childbearing but did catch up a bit in their 30s. In its report, the NCHS similarly observed that birth rates had dropped to record lows in 2013 among women under age 30 and rose for most age groups 30 and over. From the Bureau:

In 2000, women 25 to 34 with at least a bachelor's degree had fewer total children and were less likely to have ever given birth compared with women who had less than a high school education. Women with less than a high school education had three times as many births as women with at least a bachelor's degree. Eighty-three percent of women 25 to 34 with less than a high school education had given birth at twice the percentage recorded by women with at least a bachelor's degree (42 percent).      

By 2010, the education level of these women — now 10 years older — made less of a difference in their total number of children than it did in 2000. Women 35 to 44 (corresponding with the 25 to 34 age group in 2000) with at least a bachelor's degree had 1.7 births, while women who had less than a high school education had 2.5 births. Eighty-eight percent of women 35 to 44 with less than a high school education had a birth compared with 76 percent of women with at least a bachelor's degree.

Nevertheless, the Bureau noted that women with college degrees are still having fewer children overall by the end of their childbearing years. Consequently, I doubt that the U.S. total fertility rate will ever again rise above the replacement rate of 2.1 children.

See also Reason TV's excellent interview with filmmaker Jessica Yu in which she explains why she concluded that overpopulation is a myth in her documentary Misconception: