This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

US Birth Rate Down Yet Again

Women in the U.S. continue to have fewer babies. That's the news from the National Center for Health Statistics, highlighted in today's NYTimes (and thanks to Rubèn Rumbaut for the link).
The fertility rate in the United States fell to a record low for a second straight year, federal officials reported Thursday, extending a deep decline that began in 2008 with the Great Recession.
You can see in the graph below that both the number of births and the general fertility rate (births per 1,000 women aged 15-44) plummeted in the 1970s as the country went through the Baby Bust that followed the Baby Boom. The number of births recovered over time, largely because the number of women of reproductive continued to increase. But you can see that the birth rate itself never really recovered. It bounced up a bit in line with the rise in economic activity that ultimately led to the Great Recession in 2008, which was followed by a relatively precipitous drop in numbers of births and the birth rate.

It is good of course that the teen birth rate continues to drop, and it is interesting that the only age group with a clear increase was 40-44. The long-term trend has been for rates to be declining at all ages under 35, and rising at ages 35-44. Clearly women are postponing births. Why? The reaction to the economic rise (an increase in the birth rate) and the Great Recession (a drop in the birth rate) suggests that the economy has a lot to do with people's decision-making, especially in an era where birth control is readily available (no matter how hard some people want to put a lid on that!). My theory is that the root cause of the fertility trend is the increasing level of income and wealth inequality in the United States. Neither the President nor Congress seems to have any inclination to invest in infrastructure improvement and other government-sponsored programs that have been key components to past economic growth. Handing big tax breaks to a relatively small number of wealthy people and large corporations has no history of stimulating the kind of economic growth that helps a wide swath of people, whereas government-sponsored programs do have that kind of history.

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