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U.S. Birthrate Hits Lowest Level Since 1920

Thanks largely to the continued economic downturn, the U.S. birthrate has hit a level not seen in 90 years:

The U.S. birthrate plunged last year to a record low, with the decline being led by immigrant women hit hard by the recession, according to a study released Thursday by the Pew Research Center.

The overall birthrate decreased by 8 percent between 2007 and 2010, with a much bigger drop of 14 percent among foreign-born women. The overall birthrate is at its lowest since 1920, the earliest year with reliable records. The 2011 figures don’t have breakdowns for immigrants yet, but the preliminary findings indicate that they will follow the same trend.

The decline could have far-reaching implications for U.S. economic and social policy. A continuing decrease could challenge long-held assumptions that births to immigrants will help maintain the U.S. population and create the taxpaying workforce needed to support the aging baby-boom generation.

The U.S. birthrate — 63.2 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age — has fallen to a little more than half of its peak, which was in 1957. The rate among foreign-born women, who have tended to have bigger families, has also been declining in recent decades, although more slowly, according to the report.

But after 2007, as the worst recession in decades dried up jobs and economic prospects across the nation, the birthrate for immigrant women plunged. One of the most dramatic drops was among Mexican immigrants — 23 percent.

The fall didn’t occur because there are fewer immigrant women of childbearing age but because of a change in their behavior, said D’Vera Cohn, an author of the report, which uses data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau. Cohn added that “the economic downturn seems to play a pretty large role in the drop in the fertility rate.”

Although the declining U.S. birthrate has not created the kind of stark imbalances found in graying countries such as Japan or Italy, it should serve as a wake-up call for policymakers, said Roberto Suro, a professor of public policy at the University of Southern California.

“We’ve been assuming that when the baby-boomer population gets most expensive, that there are going to be immigrants and their children who are going to be paying into [programs for the elderly], but in the wake of what’s happened in the last five years, we have to reexamine those assumptions,” he said. “When you think of things like the solvency of Social Security, for example . . . relatively small increases in the dependency ratio can have a huge effect.”

The average number of children a U.S. woman is predicted to have in her lifetime is 1.9, slightly less than the 2.1 children required to maintain current population levels.

The falling birthrate mirrors what has happened during other recessions. A Pew study last year found that the current decline in U.S. fertility rates was closely linked to hard times, particularly among Hispanics.

“The economy can have an impact on these long-term trends, and even the immigrants that we have been counting on to boost our population growth can dip in a poor economy,” said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. He noted that Hispanic women, who led the decline, occupy one of the country’s most economically vulnerable groups.

In theory, birth rates should increase somewhat if and when the economy recovers. However, as the article goes on to point out, the combination of an overall decline in immigration from Mexico, which has declined significantly in recent years, and the fact that Latino families are mirroring other Americans in having fewer children as they became more integrated into American society, suggests that we may not be too far away from the point where our birth rate may not return to 20th century levels.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. gVOR08 says:

    The decline in immigration is usually also attributed to the economy and may pick up again.

    I figured that was how Romney’s “self deportation” plan would work. His policies would have driven wages and working conditions in the U. S. down to a point they’d be unattractive to a poor Mexican. (Did anyone on his campaign ever figure out that the “self deportation” thing started life as a joke by a Hispanic comic?)

    Why do these articles always pick out the few negative implications of reduced population growth? Low population growth is generally a good thing. We can deal with the shifting age distribution.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. JKB says:

    Would a responsible adult want to bring a child into the Obama-nation?

    Turns out while many young women voted for their free birth control and free aborting of punishing babies like their vaginas depended on it.

    Other women voted with their vaginas. Babies are the ultimate form of hope for the future and there is little of that at least for 4 more years.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 23

  3. JKB says:

    @gVOR08: Low population growth is generally a good thing. We can deal with the shifting age distribution.

    True, we just have to dispose of the welfare state, which is premised on taking from the young to keep the old in the manner in which they’ve become accustomed. Fewer young, the deeper the bite to keep up the old Woodstockers who’ve grown fond of their bourgeois lifestyles.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 12

  4. Scott says:

    @gVOR08: One of the ramifications is that current generations will have to save even more to take care of themselves in their old age and not be dependent on future generations. This will take adjustment as we head to a new equilibrium. Not necessarity a bad thing.

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  5. An Interested Party says:

    Would a responsible adult want to bring a child into the Obama-nation?

    Oh, so you’re for abortions for all? That’s good to know…

    True, we just have to dispose of the welfare state, which is premised on taking from the young to keep the old in the manner in which they’ve become accustomed. Fewer young, the deeper the bite to keep up the old Woodstockers who’ve grown fond of their bourgeois lifestyles.

    Ahh, just like one of the other loons on another thread, taste the hate for Social Security…sorry to disappoint you, but it isn’t going anywhere…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  6. bill says:

    well who, aside from wealthy people or the anchor baby crowd would want to breed with this horrible economy? it’ll cycle out, but i just read that in japan they sell more depends than diapers…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  7. James in LA says:

    @JKB: Turns out while many young women voted for their free birth control and free aborting of punishing babies like their vaginas depended on it.

    Oh you’re just still grumpy that those vaginas are attached to people with the same exact rights as you, and that this doesn’t allow you poke your big beak into the private affairs of your fellow citizens. You mourn quite obnoxiously that the age of the busy-body wierdo is ovah, Mr. Small Government. And I really do not care what you think you “pay for” in your taxes. Still none of your business, still never going to be your choice.

    Ever.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  8. An Interested Party says:

    well who, aside from wealthy people or the anchor baby crowd would want to breed with this horrible economy?

    Oh look, someone else in favor of abortion…and really, “anchor baby crowd”? For your sake, I hope that you are old enough to not still be around in 2050 when the “anchor baby crowd” will outnumber people like you…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  9. KariQ says:

    I’ve never quite understood why a low birthrate is supposed to be such a bad thing. It’s not like the human species is in danger of going extinct or the United States is going to disappear. A stable population will require some changes, but it won’t exactly be a disaster.

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