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 13th (it will be out in January 2020), 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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Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Second Demographic Transition Comes to America

The Washington Post recently published a widely retweeted story (at least among demographers!) about the continued decline in fertility in the U.S., focusing on the fact that every demographic group has experienced the drop. 
The CDC said Wednesday that the total fertility rate — a theoretical figure that estimates the number of births a woman will have in her lifetime — fell by 18 percent from 2007 to 2017 in large metropolitan areas, 16 percent in smaller metro areas and 12 percent in rural areas. A similar downward trend holds for white, black and Hispanic women.
Low fertility in the U.S. is not, in and of itself, news. I last blogged about this only three months ago. But this new analysis of the birth data takes us into the comparisons among groups that we hadn't seen before. So, what's going on? The Washington Post sought answers from demographers:
The University of Pennsylvania’s Hans-Peter Kohler, who studies fertility and birthrates, said the data indicated that many shifts affecting fertility are occurring “in the transition to adulthood.” The biggest recent drops in birthrate have been among teenagers as well as people in their 20s. In 2016, the teen birthrate hit at an all-time low after peaking in 1991.
“The declining total fertility rates are children not born in the moment, but the hope is that they are delayed, not forgone,” Kohler said. “The exact details we won’t know until the young adults who are currently delaying having children are in their 30s or 40s.”
William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, said that what struck him about the new report is the figures on Hispanic women, who have traditionally had high fertility rates. From 2007 to 2017, Hispanic women experienced a 26 percent drop in fertility rates in rural areas, a 29 percent drop in smaller metro areas and a 30 percent decline in large metro areas.
The reality is that the Second Demographic Transition--the decline of fertility to below replacement levels in rich countries--has finally caught up with America. It seemed for awhile as though we might somehow avoid it, but these new data illustrate the amazing changes in family demography that have been taking place over the past couple of decades. Women are delaying marriage and child-bearing--or avoiding one or both altogether at levels that are historically unprecedented. They are living for themselves, not just for their husbands and children. As in Europe, the percent of births that are out-of-wedlock is historically high, as Bloomberg reported a few days ago, building on data from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). 
The data show such births in the U.S. and EU are predominantly to unmarried couples living together rather than to single mothers, the report says. The data suggest that societal and religious norms about marriage, childbearing and women in the workforce have changed, said Kelly Jones, the director for the Center on the Economics of Reproductive Health at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
Welcome, America, to the Second Demographic Transition. We don't know how this is going to turn out, but we're clearly in the middle of it. 

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