The low U.S. birth rate has been linked to the weak economy, but one professor says larger demographic trends also could be at work.
The U.S. birth rate remained at a record low in 2012, after plummeting since the onset of the Great Recession.
Last year there were 63.2 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age, down from a high of 69.3 per 1,000 women in 2007, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While there was a record number of births in 2007 — 4.3 million — births since then have declined even as the population continues to grow.
The total number of U.S. births in 2012 was 3,958,000, essentially unchanged from 2011, when 3,953,593 children were born, according to the CDC.
MSN New: Charles W. Jones
This graph shows data for U.S. fertility rates in 2011 and 2012
The low birth rate has been closely linked to the weak economy. The birth rate fell most sharply in the early years of the economic slowdown, with smaller declines since the recession officially ended in 2009, said D’Vera Cohn, senior writer at Pew Research Center. The most recent data may indicate that the drop is “leveling off,” Cohn said.
“Research has shown that when economic times are bad, fertility rates are down,” Cohn told MSN. “When the economy improves, we’ve seen the fertility rate rise again as women have the children that they didn’t have during more difficult economic times.”
Alice Schoonbroodt, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Iowa who has studied fertility and the economy, said it is not easy to determine whether the drop in fertility rates is due more to the weak economy than to larger demographic trends, such as women waiting longer to have children. While it is still possible that women will “make up for” the drop in fertility rates in the past several years by having children when the economy bounces back, it is too early to say whether the recession will have a lasting effect on the number of children women have, Schoonbroodt said.
“It’s not quite clear where we’re going or how much of it is due to the recession,” Schoonbroodt told MSN. “My guess is it will have a significant effect because women already have children so late that there is not much room for postponement.”
Notably, the birth rate dropped over the past several years among women of all childbearing ages except the oldest, indicating that women in their 40s may feel they don’t have time to wait, Cohn said. From 2010 to 2011, the birth rate among women ages 20 to 24 dropped by 5 percent to a historic low of 85.3 per 1,000. During the same period, the birth rate for women ages 40 to 44 rose 1 percent to 10.3 births per 1,000, according to the Pew Research Center.
Since 2007, the fertility rate has dropped more among immigrants than women born in the United States. The birth rate for U.S.-born women fell 6 percent from 2007 to 2010, compared to a 14 percent drop during the same years among foreign-born women, according to the Pew Research Center. The birth rate among Mexican immigrants fell even more, by 23 percent.
The greater decline among immigrant women may also be due to economic factors, Cohn said. “Foreign-born women on average have lower income than women born in the U.S., so that might be a factor,” Cohn said.
Hispanics overall were hit by larger declines in household income than other groups, as well as higher poverty and unemployment Cohn said.
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