US Birth & Fertility Rates Hit New Record Lows: Why?
IN THIS ISSUE:
1. US Births Fall 4% To 42-Year Low – What Happened?
2. Don’t Blame Falling Birth Rate All on the Pandemic
Overview: US Birth Rate Falls 6th Consecutive Year: Why?
The US Centers For Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that the US birth rate plunged for its sixth consecutive year in 2020. The US fertility rate also hit a new record low. Demographers are puzzled at this potentially troubling trend, but most agree it is due to a combination of factors. But whatever the reasons, the Millennial Generation is marrying less and having significantly fewer babies.
While many who saw the new birth rate numbers last week automatically assumed the larger than expected drop was due to the COVID pandemic, the coronavirus crisis was only a minor factor, as I will explain below. The US birth rate has been falling for six years now, a trend which began long before COVID.
US Births Fall 4% To 42-Year Low – What Happened?
The number of births in the US fell 4% in 2020, dropping to the lowest level since 1979 and continuing a multi-year trend of declining birth rates. That's according to a report published last Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The agency reported 3,605,201 births in 2020, down from 3,747,540 during the year prior, based on provisional data from more than 99% of birth certificates issued during the year. 2020 marks the sixth consecutive year that the number of births in the US has fallen, the agency reported.
The birth rate among all women of child-bearing ages fell to a new record low, dipping to just 12.3 births per 1,000 women, as you can see in the chart below.
Among teenagers, many of whom shifted to remote learning due to the pandemic, birth rates fell precipitously, according to data just released by the CDC. The birth rate for young women between the ages of 15 and 19 fell to a record low in 2020, dropping to only 15.3 per 1,000 women, an 8% decline from the year before.
This continues a significant downward trend over the past two decades – down 75% from 1991, the most recent peak – for all women of child-bearing age.
The CDC also calculated that the total fertility rate, which reflects the average number of times a woman will give birth in her lifetime, declined to a record low in 2020, falling to 1,637.5 births per 1,000 women, down 4% from 2019.
That's considerably lower than what the agency referred to as "replacement levels,” or the rate necessary for a generation to replace itself – which the CDC said was about 2,100 births per 1,000 women. According to the CDC, the total fertility rate has generally been below replacement levels since 1971, and "consistently" below that level since 2007.
Some experts have sounded the alarm on declining birth rates and what this will mean for the US economy in the years to come. In a recent segment on "CBS This Morning" co-host Tony Dokoupil interviewed Dowell Myers who studies demographics at the University of Southern California, and she called the falling birthrate phenomenon a "crisis."
Myers added: "We need to have enough working-age people to carry the load of these seniors, who deserve their retirement, they deserve all their entitlements, and they're gonna live out another 30 years. Nobody in the history of the globe has had so many older people to deal with."
The COVID pandemic has certainly exacerbated the decline. The Brookings Institution has predicted "a large, lasting baby bust" of at least 300,000 fewer children in 2021 alone. Health departments in more than two dozen states provided records to CBS News, showing a 7% drop in births in December alone – nine months after the first lockdowns began.
Phil Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, said December's drop was the biggest he's seen since the Baby Boom ended in 1964. "We don't know if it's the beginning of a bigger decline over the whole next year or if it's just a shock from March," Cohen said in February. "But I'm more inclined based on history to think that all of next year is going to be very much down for births."
Don’t Blame Falling Birth Rate All on the Pandemic
About 142,000 fewer babies were born in the US in 2020 than in 2019, according to provisional figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released May 5. But unlike most health news pertaining to last year, the COVID pandemic was NOT the primary cause for the decline, the CDC maintains.
In total, there were 3.6 million births in 2020, a 4% drop from 2019 – about the same as last seen in 1980. Additionally, the general fertility rate, which is a better metric to show national birth trends over time, also dropped 4% last year to 55.8 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44. That rate set a record low for the country, according to the CDC.
Although there were predictions that COVID-19 triggered a “baby bust” last year, the latest 2020 data does NOT support such a conclusion. This is because the vast majority of 2020 babies were conceived prior to the pandemic. Full-term babies who were conceived around January 22, when the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the US, were born in late October. And those conceived after March 13, when the US declared a national emergency, were born starting in mid-December. But as the chart below shows, the number of births was down throughout the whole year, except in February:
While the pandemic may have played some role in the number of births during the final weeks of the year, the overall picture is more indicative of a continued fertility decline that started years before the COVID crisis. Since 2014, the last year during which the number of births increased, the country has experienced a six-year downward streak, averaging 2% fewer births per year.
Birth rates have been sinking across demographics, and 2020 was no exception. Every race and ethnic group and every age group between 15 and 44 (which account for 99.7% of births) had a lower rate.
The forces of the pandemic, including economic uncertainty, financial instability and health-related anxieties, could exacerbate the downward trend even more in 2021. An April analysis of birth records in 25 states conducted by the Associated Press found that those states collectively had 9.3% fewer births in January 2021 and 10% fewer births in February 2021 compared with the same months a year earlier.
The CDC report doesn’t explain why birth rates are declining, but other surveys and research suggest multiple factors are at play, including financial constraints and lack of societal support for working parents. The pandemic threw these problems under a harsh spotlight, motivating lawmakers to address the cost and work-family challenges that American parents very often face.
The pandemic relief bill which passed in March upped a $2,000 child tax credit to $3,600 for each child under age 6 and to $3,000 for children up to age 17, though the provision will expire after this year. More recently, President Joe Biden has floated proposals to expand paid leave programs and improve childcare access and affordability. Whether those ideas become legislation is uncertain, as Republicans aren’t fully supportive.
Wishing you profits,
Gary D. Halbert
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