Why the Falling U.S. Birth Rates Are So Troubling

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We’re becoming Europe. At least, that’s what a long line of U.S. birth-rate figures seems to being telling us. And that’s bad news for the future of the country.

New numbers released by the U.S. government on Tuesday show record-low birth rates in 2011: the general fertility rate (63.2 per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44) was the lowest ever recorded; the birth rate for teenagers ages 15 to 19 declined; birth rates for women ages 20 to 24 hit a record low; and rates for Hispanic and non-Hispanic black women dipped. Some birth rates remained unchanged, like those of women in their late 40s. Only women ages 35 to 39 and 40 to 44 are more likely to have babies now than in the past.

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The data are part of a broader post–financial crash trend. Every year since 2007, when the number of births in the U.S. hit 4.3 million, Americans have brought fewer babies into the world. Much of that has to do with the recession: Americans apparently decided that they couldn’t afford to have as many kids in an unstable economy, even if they were married.

Such declines are typical during economic crises. During the Great Depression, birth rates dropped significantly, and the same thing happened during the stagnation of the 1970s. “We’ve seen this previously throughout the last 100 years,” says Mark Mather, a demographer for the Population Reference Bureau. “Fertility rates drop in periods of economic stress.”

It appears that the decline in birth rates has at least begun to slow, likely reflecting the fact that Americans are feeling more confident about their economic future. The birth rate fell by 1% in 2011, as opposed to the 2% and 3% drops in prior years.

Even so, the trend toward fewer births is likely to continue over the long term, mirroring what’s been going on overseas for decades. “I would suspect that fertility rates over the long term would start to resemble those of Europe,” says Mather.

Europe’s birth rates have been declining for decades, especially in its most economically stable country. Germany’s rate — 1.36 children per woman — is the lowest in all of Europe and one of the lowest in the world. There were fewer German births in 2011 than at any other time recorded.

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Even before the euro crisis, experts were sounding the alarm over Europe’s gloomy demographic future. How is the continent supposed to take care of an aging population when its birth rates are pointing toward a shrinking workforce in the decades to come?

The U.S. rate hasn’t fallen to European levels yet. The birth rate of children per woman in the U.S. is about 1.9. But the downward trend will almost certainly force the U.S. to rethink how to financially support the elderly and fund programs like Social Security and Medicare, ongoing economic debates that will take on even more weight as the country ages.

Some experts are more optimistic about the latest figures. While birth rates have been sliding since 2007, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they aren’t worried about a possible demographic time bomb. To keep the population stable, countries need to have a birth rate of about two children per woman, which is close to the current U.S. rate. One CDC official told the Associated Press, “We haven’t seen any studies that show couples want to have fewer children or no children.”

Unfortunately, it may not be a matter of whether families want to have children, but whether they can.

MORE: U.S. Birth Rates Hit Record Lows: Is It the Economy?

231 comments
iDuder
iDuder

I don't see why lower birth rates are bad... we can't even provide everyone here with a job to survive! Let alone more people coming in via birth and making the problem worse. We also don't have infinite resources of food and water, if anything it's best for humans to slow down with births for the long term survival of humanity. 

bddb
bddb

why is this troubling? Hope the trend continues.  I personally would atleast like a tax credit for choosing NOT 2 have children.  I wouldn't bat an eye if the world instituted a 2 baby max for all. Have two babies you get tube ties or vesectemony.  If that seems barbaric (altho, all things considered, i hardly consider it barbaric ), have more than two babies u get taxed per baby, altho the rich would have to pay a larger % tax so the policy wouldn't smack of eugenics. 

MuherezaKyamutetera
MuherezaKyamutetera

Guys, be honest. If there over 9 million gay Americans, why are you alarmed that the rate of child births is declining? Josh Sanburn (the reporter) is being intellectually dishonest

BillyB
BillyB

Tell that to the Mexicans who have snuck in.  I routinely see the 25 year old mom pushes a stroller with 4 other kids in tow....

Jennifer Hulford
Jennifer Hulford

You must be high, Time magazine. This planet is so overpopulated it's killing itself. Every single pressing issue can be distilled down to too many people. Demographics? If this economy and society is wired to only work when we overpopulate, then we have some serious work to do. 

la catholic state
la catholic state

The price for abortion and contraception is going to be ......everything.  Even the future....and all your lands. 

God forgives.....Mother Nature doesn't!

Gregory Dittman
Gregory Dittman

There are far more reasons not to have children than to have children.  Some people don't want to pay the expense.  Only those in the top 20% in terms of wealth can even afford children as seen with the over 40 million on food stamps (most of those are children).  Those 20% tend to work and travel a lot so they would just be producing latch key kids.  Even the most perfect family can see economic problems for the child's future.  In 2027, Medicare is expected to go broke forcing higher payments, Social Security is expected to only give 75% of the promised payout, the national debt and state debts will get harder to ignore, regulations will get more strict etc.

Rumionemore
Rumionemore

Many  more educated women have decided that motherhood isn't so great - pregnancy, birth experience or raising the offspring. Children are often barriers to serious careers. Out-of-wedlock births have many negative associations, including their likely association with poverty for mom and child. The ideal is to bring into the world children who are wanted, planned for and can be sufficiently financially supported. (I know, I know - there's no "ideal" in this world.)

JohnJGuy
JohnJGuy

A very complex, striking and thought provoking article...

...Although, a decline in the Birth Rate in periods of economic stress seems fairly self explanatory and obvious!

Billy Snipes
Billy Snipes

Declining birthrates is fine but the fact that less intelligent women tend to be more fertile remains an issue.

arvay
arvay

A splendid development. We can adjust to temporary demographic dislocations. Not to 10 billion people on the planet.

sorentoft78
sorentoft78

Good news, finally. We are already to many humans on this planet. make love not babies.

JeanClellandMorin
JeanClellandMorin

The human species has been mindlessly reproducing itself and destroying the planet. We would do better to pay attention to our daily habits and attempt to live healthy, productive lives in our old age. //  Jean Clelland-Morin

ABC
ABC

How's having lower teenage pregnancy such a bad thing ? WTF! I'm jumping for joy for the lower teenage pregnancy.  I don't know about the rest of you, but I think the lower birth rate is an positive indication that people are actually focusing on bettering their career and education, rather than popping out babies all day long.

David Strayer
David Strayer

Just wait for the Republicans to outlaw contraception: the U.S. birth rate will shoot up.

AnthonyThomas
AnthonyThomas

@iDuderThere are plenty of resources to handle a world population of 10 Billion. We have Corporations in the way... Overpopulation is a myth, every barrier that alarmist have said would be a crisis point has been smashed though. 

syberburns
syberburns

@iDuder there is enough water in Lake Baikal in Russia to support the entire planet's water needs for 20 years...plus the lake is expanding as we speak. Corrupt governments don't want you to believe there is enough food, water or jobs...it's just not true. There is enough to go around. It's the people at the top that decide whether resources are made to be sustainable or not.

AnthonyThomas
AnthonyThomas

@bddb  Overpopulation is a myth and you are not contributing to society so why should you desire of a tax break? You are likely very White as well, you don't deserve sh*t.

bddb
bddb

vasectomony, now that's funny

KMM
KMM

What's wrong with a 25year old woman with 4 kids in tow? I had 3 at that age and at 27 I have four. My husband is 10 years older than me and we decided we wanted a bigger family and he didn't want to have kids in his forties...

AnthonyThomas
AnthonyThomas

@BillyB You have a problem with that? 10% of White women are not married to White men and that trend is growing. Men of Color want to have children (95%), this appeals to the majority of women. 

AnthonyThomas
AnthonyThomas

@-Matthew ☺ Carr- India's birth rates have fallen as they experience growth. Africa is the youngest continent on earth. Revenge? Likely, look over your shoulder homie...

AnthonyThomas
AnthonyThomas

@Jennifer Hulford  Its not overpopulated, that's a myth. We have corporations in the way, we have enough resources for 10-13 billion but we may never reach that because as more women become highly educated, fewer will choose to have children or put career ahead of children.

ss99zz99ss
ss99zz99ss

@Jennifer Hulford Wait, weren't you Malthusian anti-human types with your overpopulation junk science telling us back in the 60s that mass famines would strike in the 70s and 80s?

AnthonyThomas
AnthonyThomas

@Rumionemore Planned for? Sounds like another way to say Eugenics.... Nothing in life is ever fully planned for. That said, we don't take family life seriously, we play lip service too it. As somebody recently said, America is slowly becoming more like China and less like Europe.

AnthonyThomas
AnthonyThomas

@Billy Snipes  Any less intelligent than your dumb ass? 

AnthonyThomas
AnthonyThomas

@sorentoft78 Eugenics.... We have plenty of resources, you just don't wanna share the planet with a majority people of color.. Sucks to be you.

zanclus
zanclus

@ABC It is, I agree (teenage pregnancy). This article is just a bunch of baby boomers whining that no one will pay for their diapers when they burn through their retirement savings and need the current working generation to pick up their slack.

zanclus
zanclus

@David Strayer Too late. My IUD is staying in till I'm 45, and they can't make me take it out.

Palladia
Palladia

They'll never be able to make it stick.  Too many people have been using contraception for too long, now.  Really dependable contraception has been available for about fifty years, now.  People who have used it are not going back.

Hey
Hey

@AnthonyThomas I disagree Anthony, I think the problem is that we have governments in the way.  There would be no baby boomer crisis in the USA if the Federal Government had not promised the baby boomer generation social security and medical entitlements decades ago.  Now a smaller workforce will be strapped with these obligations and it is debatable whether or not their labor will be able to pay these obligations, or even if they will choose to pay them. 

J_Feezy
J_Feezy

@syberburns  Yes, but I like most people require more than water. Mass production of food has played a big role in the population increase.
I for one would favor non-GMO food and a lower population that can sustain itself over the current situation of foods we have no idea what is in them.  Europe is now starting to ban American meat due to the unnaturally large size of our live stock, pumped with hormones etc. 

You should also consider the global population when having this conversation. 

The world population did not reach one billion until 1804. 
It took 123 years to reach 2 billion (in 1927), 
33 years to reach 3 billion (in 1960), 
14 years to reach 4 billion (in 1974),
13 years to reach 5 billion (in 1987), 
12 years to reach 6 billion (in 1999),
12 years to reach 7 billion (in 2011). 



Hey
Hey

@AnthonyThomas Wow, your comments are increasingly bitter and hate filled.  I suspect you are probably racist.

joewp
joewp

@ss99zz99ss So you think that that world population can continue to grow unabated? Do you think he planet is infinite? At just 1% per year(where we are now), the human population will double in just 70 years. Do you really think the planet can support 14 billion people? You do? How about doubling in another 70 yeas to 28 billion? Want to keep going? In 2850 or so, there will be 1 person per square meter of dry land. 

Do you really think that's possible, or even desirable? 

 Malthus was right, and the longer we keep growing, the harder the resulting crash. The real anti-humans are the ones who promote higher population, because a crowded world results in less freedom and opportunity for ALL of us, and will inevitably result in a massive population crash with much suffering.

SammyPrado
SammyPrado

@AnthonyThomas  I see your comments and how you this world can handle 10+ billion people. If that's the case why am I still seeing commercials asking me to help feed the starving people in Africa? Africa cannot sustain the current growth trends. Why do you so many are clamoring to leave and immigrate to Europe and America? If it were not for western aid these countries would all starve. Its irresponsible to keep bringing into this world that you can't support. And the cold hard fact is that less intelligence means higher birth rates. Don't you think we need to educate women so they can make better decisions when it comes to planning a family?

BrittanyAnderson
BrittanyAnderson

@AnthonyThomas Its pathetic how you come to this website that talks about birth rates and you leave racist comments toward people. Grow up and quit being ignorant.

AnthonyThomas
AnthonyThomas

@zanclus Both of you jokers are idiots. Keep cheerleading, you taxes will go WAY up and the retirement age will get bumped to 70 or more. Have fun with that,  this BS about paying for your own retirement, funny. Renounce your SSI now.... I dare you. You won't, chicken sh*t White trash, figures. 

Hey
Hey

@joewp @ss99zz99ss Uh, last time I looked, there was SPACE out there, with LOTS of resources.

AnthonyThomas
AnthonyThomas

@joewp @ss99zz99ss We have corporations that control resources. Take it out of their control and we can handle double the current population with ease... Overpopulation is a myth.

BrittanyAnderson
BrittanyAnderson

@AnthonyThomas @zanclus Honestly, you must not have nothing to do all day but sit on your computer and think of ways to insult white people. Your probably a geeky black guy that desperately wants to be a thug. Its okay life will get better for you.