Fertility rates

U.S. Fertility Rate Drops to Lowest Level Ever

Americans are freely choosing to have fewer children.

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American women are choosing to have fewer babies and the result is that America's total fertility rate in 2020 has fallen to a record low of 1.64 births per 1,000 women between 15 and 44 years of age, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Demographers define replacement fertility as 2.1 children per woman over the course of her lifetime; one to replace her, another to replace the father, and a tenth extra to account for children who die before reproducing and those who churlishly refuse to make their parents into grandparents. Populations with sustained sub-replacement fertility will eventually begin to shrink.

As recently as 60 years ago, the average American woman gave birth to 3.6 kids during her lifetime. Following the introduction of effective birth control pills, the U.S. total fertility rate began to fall steeply from 1960 to a nadir of 1.74 children per woman in 1976. Fertility rose again to hover just below replacement until 2007 when it began its contemporary drop to the lowest rate ever recorded. The U.S. fertility rate is now basically the same as that of other rich developed countries.

A week ago, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that in the prior decade the U.S. population grew by only 7.4 percent from 309 million to 331 million people. That is the second-lowest rate in the country's history; the only decade with a lower growth rate (7.3 percent) was during the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Naturally, the falling fertility rate has provoked a lot of handwringing, including worries that the pressures and precarity of "late capitalism" are discouraging would-be parents from having the number of children that they would actually prefer to have.

There are good reasons to doubt that, as American Enterprise Institute's Scott Winship reported recently over at The Dispatch. Comparing the fertility intentions collected in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth's 1979 and 1997 datasets, Winship, the director of poverty studies at AEI, finds that in both cohorts, about 25 percent of the women fell more than one child short of their expressed expectations as young adults. The big difference is that in 1979, some 84 percent of the women respondents expected two or more children; in 1997, only 73 percent did.

Proponents of expansive pronatalist policies such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D–Mass.) universal child care proposal or Sen. Mitt Romney's (R–Utah) universal child allowance tax credit should keep in mind that such programs have never boosted above replacement the fertility rates in countries like SwedenDenmark, and France.

As I argued earlier, modernity offers people a multitude of life options that compete with the bearing and rearing of children. Evidently, the trade-offs between work, travel, socializing, entertainment, sports, and parenting that people are making reduce fertility. The upshot is that modern people considering their options are voluntarily choosing to have fewer children. Freedom of choice is a good thing.

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  1. Terrific news. This provides additional justification for us Koch / Reason libertarians to say “See? We need to import cost-effective foreign labor because there simply aren’t enough working-age Americans.”

    #ImmigrationAboveAll

    1. Figured you’d be first up on this one.

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      2. I figured he’d be here, but being first is just OBL at the top of his game.

    2. Because already having the 3rd largest population in the world isn’t enough for you.

      There are plenty of working age Americans and many of them are now sitting on Federal unemployment and many others are on “the other welfare”. Sorry dude, but I’ve been to 3 businesses today that can’t open fully because their lazy former employees won’t come to work till the free money stops, and the government has no intention of ever making it stop.

      You get more of what you are willing to pay for and that includes miscreant whiners sitting on their individual and collective asses, bitching about the system that they milk. Stop the flow of free cash/housing/food and you will have all the labor you can handle… and move unproductive government costs over to the productive free market.

  2. “Americans are freely choosing to have fewer children.”

    Or millennial men are “pussing out”.

    1. Anime won’t get masturbated to, by itself.

    2. Couldn’t it be also be the puss isn’t worth the work-boots?

  3. Except our social structures require a rising productive population.

    And just the idea that becoming a rich society leads to population collapse suggests that it is an evolutionary dead end. Not to mention that past fertility busts in history do not have a pleasant endgame.

    1. Know what else is an evolutionary dead end?

    2. Well, first of all the idea that a single generation dip = a fertility bust or a population collapse would indicate you are quite the drama queen.

      Second, if benefits found in social structures were actually tied to productive population growth, China and India would be model societies for the last 100 years. And those with the fastest growth rate now, Syria, Niger, Angola, Uganda would be working towards amazing. Of the countries with the fastest growth rates, I gotta get to Luxembourg at 57 before finding one where I’d want to live.

      Third, you completely ignore the benefits of technology and the benefits of greater productivity with less effort. The first guy who hooked up two round rolling things to a flat thing realized he could now haul as much as 10 men… with a lot less overhead and bickering.

      1. Well, first of all the idea that a single generation dip = a fertility bust or a population collapse would indicate you are quite the drama queen.

        In a very pertinent sense a bust depends on both the principle and the leverage. If you walk into the casino with $1000 in your pocket, bet $10 on slots with a $10,000 payout, you didn’t bust. If you walk into a casino bet $1,000 and lose, you busted. If you walk into the casino $10,000 in the hole, unless you walk out with $1, you were bust when you walked in.

        If the government/economy bets $10M we’ll have a fertility rate of 2.2 for the next decade and we average 2.1, no big deal. If they bet $10T that we’ll have no less than 2.1 and we come up at 1.6, that’s a problem, especially if it happens several years in a row. And that’s being generous in assuming that the government/economy gave two shits about the birth rate and didn’t just openly lie to the public in order to get their pyramid scheme passed.

      2. I will agree that ‘evollutionary dead end’ is hyperbolic. It may be a social dead end, but evolutionarily speaking, barring some exceptional collapses and some metaphysical ‘sheepdogs and sheep’ inflections, it’s an evolutionary check or bottleneck.

    3. “Except our social structures require a rising productive population.”

      Lucky for us, social structures can be changed, they are not written in stone or unchanging laws of physics.

  4. “…who churlishly refuse to make their parents into grandparents.”

    I have a daughter who fits that description. Prefers professionalism, travel, and discretionary income [we made certain she had no debt after her bachelors degree].

    1. [we made certain she had no debt after her bachelors degree].

      Ever mention that professionalism, travel, and discretionary income aren’t mutually exclusive with children? If ACB can have 7 kids and make SCOTUS, Trump can have 5 and make Pres. it would seem to suggest that the choice between ‘babies *or* wealth/happiness’ is a false one.

      Her preferences are her preferences, of course but, by the same token, promoting a false dichotomy is promoting a false dichotomy.

      1. Guess I’m not in the same league as ACB or Trump.

        False dichotomy you see; skewed sample, says I. Have you had, and raised, children? I have, and they are, to middle income persons, hugely expensive; and if you cannot afford a nanny or au pair, time consuming.

        1. skewed sample, says I

          It’s not like 5 kids is really that exceptional across societies and throughout history. Are you suggesting that in 2021 it’s harder for the average person to have and raise 7 kids than it was in 1921 or 1821? If so, what does that say about general levels of freedom?

          1. Have you had, and raised, children?

            And had? Yes. Raised? So far.

          2. Are you suggesting that in 2021 it’s harder for the average person to have and raise 7 kids than it was in 1921 or 1821?

            One working male in 1821 or 1921 could earn sufficiently to support a family of that size. Thanks to the wonders of globalism is takes 2 full time working people to attain enough money and wealth to support a family of that size. The exception being the welfare leeching single moms who breed prolifically without a moment’s concern for the expense knowing that the state will be raising their children for them at the public’s expense. It’s almost like the government has propagated public policies intended to create precisely this outcome.

            1. “It’s almost like the government has propagated public policies intended to create precisely this outcome.”

              That’s not how you, “Americans are freely choosing to have fewer children.”.

              I am growing to despise our chattering classes.

        2. I’ve had four. We are all different and so our our kids and what they [collectively and corporately] perceive as “the good life” and life priorities. Yours, mine, and everyone else’s is individually just an anecdote and shouldn’t be taken as a prototype for their given generation. Of my four, two don’t have any, one has one, and the other has three. Of course we may well not be done yet and I suspect that the two that have them will likely each have one more. So which is representative of their generation? The 0, the 2, or the 4? Perhaps some are just having them later in life and in the end it won’t be reducing any numbers.

          Times also change. Trying to draw conclusions about such figures based on a few years or even 1-2 generations is about as silly as drawing climate change estimates based on today’s weather. What will happen to the population numbers because of COVID, if any? Only time will tell and we may not know it for several years. Were people so angsty about the world that they chose to not have more kids or did a LOT of time together become more productive?

          Any analysis that looks back at a time period of less than 50 years probably has less reliability than a DNC/RNC political poll.

          However, I will suggest there are a lot of factors that simply aren’t included in virtually anyone’s diagnostic because they are hard to quantify. Technology has influences that we simply haven’t begun to analyze in any serious way, including the financial and personal strain from those. Hell, for most of my parenting years and their child/teen years, my tech costs included one wall phone. Cost $300/year. I wouldn’t even begin to calculate what tech costs for a family of 6 would not cost, but between cell phones for everyone, tablets, gaming, internet connections, streaming services, and on and on, that’s gotta be $10K/yr [of course after taxes].

          1. Trying to draw conclusions about such figures based on a few years or even 1-2 generations is about as silly as drawing climate change estimates based on today’s weather.

            To be clear, I’m not disputing the “People are having more/fewer kids” narrative. I’m disputing the “People are having more/fewer kids because we’re more free” narrative or, more completely, the paradoxical “People who are more free to have children aren’t because they’re too expensive.” Kids are more expensive because they’ve been forced out of voluntary paid work and into public education at (above) cost.

    2. The first five minutes of Idiocracy seem appropriate here.

      This is bad news, Bailey. Though fewer Americans that your patrons will end up having to replace, so Yay! for them, I guess.

    3. Does she look churlish? Funny, I’m a Childfree By Choice man and I don’t look churlish.

  5. Americans are freely choosing to have fewer children.

    Freely choosing from no less than 6 ft. apart!

  6. Kids are expensive. I got four, born 1997, 1999, 2002, 2004. Wife did most of the work birthin’ and raisin’. I did the earnin’ alone for a while, and now we both work. One kid out of college, two in, and one finishing junior year of HS. There is economic pressure, but we would not trade the experience for more bank, trips, cars, whatever. It gets a lot easier when they become functional adults. Looking forward to grandkids someday. With four, we have a good chance of seeing a crew of new little people we can laugh with and teach secrets of the pre-smartphone old ways.

    1. There is economic pressure

      There would still be economic pressure if I made 10X as much. I find it funnier that people who can’t put a high enough price on projectoids killed by AGW models can slap a price tag on actual kids and insist that you’re stupid for not choosing the cash.

    2. Most of the “Kids are expensive” rhetoric is just rhetoric. Kids have a bottom line of expense, but it’s not that much. If kids really were expensive then the fertility rates of impoverished countries would be even lower than our own.

      1. “Kids have a bottom line of expense, but it’s not that much.”

        Really thinking you guys don’t know jack about raising children; as in actually having children, putting in the time, and paying their expenses throughout their children and post secondary education.

        I absolutely love my [now adult] children, and wouldn’t have it any other way; it was indeed a labor of love. But fact is, by any reasonable measure, they are EXPENSIVE.

        1. About 5 yrs. ago, my oldest son changed his “birthday” on his phone to his actual birth date and got locked out because it made him too young to use a phone. I was a good 5 yrs. younger than he was when I started answering the phone and a good 3 yrs. younger than he was when I started making money (of my own choice).

          Now explain to me how people are choosing to have fewer kids because they’re more free.

          1. “Now explain to me how people are choosing to have fewer kids because they’re more free.”

            Abortions and birth control have only been ubiquitous since the early sixties. Which were an era widely thought of as free-wheeling sexuality. I think the idea of it being down to couples choosing not to have children is misleading. It comes down to a whole lot of factors that the couple don’t choose and have no control over. They don’t choose to have shortening life spans, either, but that’s also been happening.

            1. It comes down to a whole lot of factors that the couple don’t choose and have no control over. They don’t choose to have shortening life spans, either, but that’s also been happening.

              Kinda my point. “Americans are having fewer kids because they’re more free” being shouted in the background of kids being arrested or shot and their parents being subjected to the CPS screws for playing in parks.

              1. “Americans are having fewer kids because they’re more free”

                There’s a grain of truth there thanks to birth control, abortion, gay liberation, feminism, and how they’ve changed public attitudes and expectations. But ‘more freedom’ is dubious at best as a decisive reason for falling fertility.

        2. Of course they are expensive, particularly if one is taking a look at it from the standpoint of a lifetime. So are cars. But in the case of both kids and cars, there are also vast ranges in what those expenses actually are based on choices, and in the course of raising 4 of my own, now them raising theirs, and the large number of parents in a variety of economic circumstances, I’ve noted that one economic theory of raising kids over another doesn’t necessarily turn out better or worse humans in the end.

          Hell, I’ve owned a ’76 Ford Pinto and a ’20 BMW. Both got me to the store and work. I wasn’t a believer in expensive toys [to the chagrin of my kids, cuz “everyone else has ___”] Other parents bought some amazing shit that even I would have loved to play with, but I noted that particularly when young, my kids found more joy out of the box than the thing that came in it.

          The point being that costs vary YUGELY, are relevant to your economic circumstances, and many of them are at least mostly discretionary. We have 2 2-yr olds grandkids now and a couple older ones. One has everything she never even knew she wanted, and 90% of it ends up in a closet including several thousand $$ of clothing. The other has a few hand-me down toys and clothing and runs around in nothing but a diaper. Both are happy and loved.

          Fortunately, kids ARE very cheap or at least can be when they are young. As they grow up, yes this is the point where people have to make decisions, many of which are guided by finances, but also by general life philosophy. I had two that could have gone to Harvard and one at Duke. All ended up at state school, worked their way through, got on average 1/3 scholarship, 1/3 loans or worked for it, and we paid 1/3.

          I’m happy as can be about how they turned out, which compared to some of my peers who spent far more, I got a hella good bargain with the humans that came out in the end and for a LOT less.

          1. many of which are guided by finances, but also by general life philosophy

            And a fair number are forced by public policy, even on people who don’t have kids, and the number has only increased as we move forward in time.

          2. “Fortunately, kids ARE very cheap or at least can be when they are young.”

            New kids often mean moving to a bigger house, the largest financial commitment most of us are likely to face in a life time. And not getting any cheaper – as are, say computer memory and such things. Medical care is also not getting any cheaper and any medical expenses are adult sized even when the patient is a child. Education doesn’t become a problem until later, I grant you, but it can cost a lot, when it kicks in. And it’s not getting any cheaper, either.

            1. Weird how, with more people to produce all those things and the fact that progress means they proportionally consume less time and fewer resources than they did in the past, they continue to get more expensive. It’s almost like despite being more free there’s something artificially controlling the price of housing, medical care, and education.

              1. Housing depends on land, something increased productivity hasn’t given us more. Medical care means more and more testing, the attention and time of highly remunerated experts, and more intensive treatments. Education is much the same.

                1. Those are some pretty progressive/collectivist viewpoints. If we can farm land that we couldn’t previously and can live on land that we had to farm, we’ve effectively gained land for housing. The medical care you assert assumes that the normal human condition is ‘unhealthy’ and that more intervention is always effective at addressing the issue. Similar for education.

                  1. “If we can farm land that we couldn’t previously and can live on land that we had to farm, we’ve effectively gained land for housing”

                    What land do you have in mind that we couldn’t farm previously but now are able? It’s not clear to me what you are driving at. Is it the Great Plains where farming was impossible because of all the bison and Indians running around on it? Or somewhere else?

                    “The medical care you assert assumes that the normal human condition is ‘unhealthy’”

                    I think it’s a fair assumption. Doctors are generally correct in assuming those who normally seek their attention are unhealthy in some way. Perhaps psychiatrists are the exception, with hypochondriacs and crazy people. There are also cases where healthy people fake illness to get off work, scam insurance companies, cadge opiate prescriptions and so on, but these are exceptional, at least I hope. In any case these visits to the doctor by healthy people, for whatever reason, would only add to the cost of medical care, given that there is only so much time one has to work with.

      2. Kids have a bottom line of expense, but it’s not that much. If kids really were expensive then the fertility rates of impoverished countries would be even lower than our own.

        Exactly. It’s the same anti-supply/demand absurdity as the minimum wage argument. The idea that a pristine market would regard potential new workers as a negative value is absurd and, in many cases and in plenty of places, in contradiction to the very manipulations that cause the market to be something other than pristine (e.g. the ACA is/was predicated on the fact and intrinsicically valued more kids showing up healthy and working into the future).

        It’s like the S230 issue 20+ yrs. down the road. Today we have ‘wet roads cause rain’ where a bill passed by Congress to regulate speech on the internet is touted as the 1A of the internet. In 20-30 yrs. everyone will have broadband costs taken out of their paychecks or folded into their property taxes and we’ll wonder why it costs so much to have free speech on the internet.

    3. “Kids are expensive.”

      If that were the reason, you’d expect to find higher birth rates among richer couples and in richer countries. Neither is the case.

      1. Good point.

  7. American women have become impossible to hit on how are they ever going to land a man like that?

  8. Mostly leftists, which is good.

    1. Well, mostly secularists, but the left has more of them as a rule. The devoutly religious demographic is having children well above replacement. Right wing secularists have low fertility, but they make up a smaller part of the right-wing demo.

  9. Creating more wage slaves for the state to abuse doesn’t sound good for anybody involved.

    1. Creating fewer is even worse as then we all end up paying more. Or taking on more debt. It’s a cynical take but it is what it is.

      1. Social Security being the biggest elephant in the room when it comes to below replacement level birthrates.

        1. I think you’ve got elephants confused with elephant seals, elephants tend not to smother and crush their young with their girth.

      2. I’ll be dead and you guys will be free to fuck up the country to your hearts’ content.

  10. Hey when did we get a mute user tab? Still no edit tab I see.

  11. Not to worry, our Moslem “friends”, who reproduce like rats, will pick up the tab. Our Eurabian future is secured…

    1. More swarthy men that Ron can watch fuck his wife? Do the benefits never cease?!

    2. You’re really not going to like the projected birth rates, and population increases, for sub-Saharan Africa…

      With the news that an mRNA-based cure for HIV might be on the way, LOL.

  12. Yeah it’s a good thing we live in a post-scarcity utopia where the nuclear family isn’t being targeted for destruction by public policies and powerful interest groups intended to create and exploit single motherhood and economic policy intended to destroy the middle class and create a permanent underclass of government dependents who can be cattled around for the entertainment of navel gazing billionaires.

  13. There are good reasons to doubt that, as American Enterprise Institute’s Scott Winship reported recently over at The Dispatch.

    There may well be good reasons to doubt that – but AEI is hardly interested in doing anything other than figuring out a way to lie with data and spin it into their chosen political narrative.

    In other news – Americans are now freely choosing to eat dog food as the price of hamburger rises. Just as years ago, Americans freely chose to eat hamburger as the price of steak rose. North Koreans of course are at the pinnacle of food choice as they are now freely choosing to eat tree bark instead of whatever Kim Duk Fu eats.

    1. 40 yrs. ago kids played miles away from home. Today they get the cops called on them, and maybe shot, blocks away from home. They were free (Constitutionally anyway) to get a paper route practically as soon as they could ride a bike. Now they have to stay in school until they usurp $15/hr. min. wage earners. Hooray freedom!

      1. What’s a paper route?

        1. It’s like a mail route except with fewer Generals.

  14. “… the falling fertility rate has provoked a lot of handwringing, worries that the pressures and precarity of “late capitalism” are discouraging would-be parents”

    No mention of the handwringers being the ones fearmongering to the precariat with doom and gloom predictions of only having 12, wait we’re down to what – 9 years left before the end of the world? Interesting.

    1. “the pressures and precarity of “late capitalism” are discouraging would-be parents””

      Seems plausible. Stress, in other words, lowers fertility. Tested again and again in the animal kingdom, no surprise that it works the same way for humans.

  15. There is a growing movement among American men to avoid situations that could put them on the hook for 18+ years of child support. No marriage means no divorce. No sperm donation means nobody coming back in a few years demanding money for a child that the father never even knew existed.

    1. It’s a world wide phenomenon. The cause has to go beyond the whims of American men. American couples are also waiting longer than ever to have their children when and if they do have them. Again that’s a world wide phenomenon.

      1. Again that’s a world wide phenomenon.

        Globalist even!

  16. “Proponents of expansive pronatalist policies such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D–Mass.) universal child care proposal or Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R–Utah) universal child allowance tax credit should keep in mind that such programs have never boosted above replacement the fertility rates in countries like Sweden, Denmark, and France.”

    They are not pronatalist policies. As the experience in Europe clearly shows. They are pro child policies. It’s right there in the name.

  17. It is shocking how intellectually lightweight Reason writers have become. Racking this up to some vacuous libertarian claptrap about all those “life choices” out there is absurd. Government policies have made the marginal cost of having children so high that people in the western world have to keep pushing the decision off to later in life or simply forgoing it. But thank god we have idiots like Ronnie the Reason idiot actually implicitly arguing for the government in articles like this…and he is so dense he doesn’t he get that he is.

    1. “Government policies have made the marginal cost of having children so high that people in the western world have to keep pushing the decision off to later in life or simply forgoing it.”

      Clear, concise statement of the problem. You obviously don’t work for Reason.

      1. Thankfully, I do not. lol

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  20. U.S. Fertility Rate Drops to Lowest Level Ever
    Americans are freely choosing to have fewer children.

    There is a very good argument for not having children, and that would be: “What? And leave them all this???”

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