Why the U.S. Birth Rate Keeps Getting Lower, and Why It Matters

August 11, 2021 K.O. Herston 0 Comments

The birth rate in the United States has declined for six consecutive years, especially in areas where the economy is growing. This matters for several reasons, including long-term economic growth and the fact that a major piece of our social safety net depends on younger workers supporting retired workers.

The articles excerpted below examine the reasons for the decline and effects we will see over time.

Why American Women Everywhere Are Delaying Motherhood

For decades, delaying parenthood was the domain of upper-middle-class Americans, especially in big, coastal cities. Highly educated women put off having a baby until their careers were on track, often until their early 30s. But over the past decade, as more women of all social classes have prioritized education and career, delaying childbearing has become a broad pattern among American women almost everywhere.

The result has been the slowest growth of the American population since the 1930s, and a profound change in American motherhood. Women under 30 have become much less likely to have children. Since 2007, the birthrate for women in their 20s has fallen by 28 percent, and the biggest recent declines have been among unmarried women. The only age groups in which birthrates rose over that period were women in their 30s and 40s — but even those began to decline over the past three years.

“The story here is about young women, whose births are plummeting,” said Caitlin Myers, an economist at Middlebury College who analyzed county-level birth records for The New York Times. “All of a sudden, in the last 10 years, there’s this tremendous transformation.”

A geographic analysis of Professor Myers’s data offers a clue: The birthrate is falling fastest in places with the greatest job growth — where women have more incentive to wait.

In more than two dozen interviews with young women in Phoenix and Denver, some said they felt they could not afford a baby. They cited the costs of childcare and housing, and sometimes student debt. Many also said they wanted to get their careers set first and expressed satisfaction that they were exerting control over their fertility — and their lives — in a way their mothers had not.

The annual fertility rate may be dropping — births have fallen for six straight years and declined precipitously during the pandemic — but the share of women who have children by the end of their reproductive years has been climbing. Still, in the past decade, births to women over 30 have not offset the decline for women in their 20s, driving down overall births and leaving an open question: Are young women delaying childbirth or forgoing it altogether?

Read more of this article: Why American Women Everywhere Are Delaying Motherhood(The New York Times, June 16, 2021).

The Unreasonable Expectations of American Motherhood

“How Low Can America’s Birthrate Go Before It’s A Problem?” asked a FiveThirtyEight headline last week. “Low Birthrates Beckon New Debate,” read the Wall Street Journal. Both noted the stakes: fewer workers paying into Social Security, essential jobs without bodies to fill them. Our economy hums along based on the idea of growth, both of money and of people, and in the past few years demographers and pundits alike have pondered the decline. Last year was a record low for the American birthrate. Some of that was pandemic-related, some was not: The birthrate has fallen for six consecutive years.

You could, as I do, presume some positives — women with greater access to birth control, and couples choosing the size of their families more intentionally. Or you could, as many commentators have, view this as a terrible problem to be solved, representing a drift from classic family values.

So as a longtime childless woman who is now wading through insurance forms and hospital preregistration and breast-pump reimbursements, I’ll offer a personal framework for “solving” the “problem”: My family values are fine. The country’s are not. For many years I did not have children because, in policies and practices, the United States is hell for mothers.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

I did not have children because America is a difficult place to be a mom. And because every policy-based attempt to change that is met by telling women to buck up, drink a glass of rosé and download the Calm app. Screw that.

Now I’m having a baby, a plot twist that involved a lot of thinking and planning with my husband, paired with a lucky salary bump, paired with my employer’s increasingly generous leave policies, paired with a soulful and biological pull that asked to be listened to rather than suppressed. I’ll say that I expect motherhood to be very, very hard, but also as immense and rewarding and transformative and weird as everyone says it is.

I will also say, as I’m heading off on this immense and rewarding journey, that I will never forget what it feels like to be a woman who is not having children. And how that might be because a woman genuinely doesn’t want to — an equal, valid and conversation-ending choice that should be respected unequivocally.

And how some of those women maybe do want to have children, but they are among the many American women for whom motherhood is not a practical choice. It’s not because they are entitled, or weak, or dysfunctional. It’s because their country is.

Read more of this article: The Unreasonable Expectations of American Motherhood(The Washington Post, June 15, 2021).

Finally, there is The Onion’s (NSFW) take:

Study Finds American Women Delaying Motherhood Because the Whole Thing Blows

Having determined through empirical research that childrearing is bullsh*t and totally not worth it, a study published Friday by sociologists at the University of Michigan found that a growing number of American women are delaying motherhood because the whole thing blows. “Our research indicates that women have put off having children until much later in life due to the fact that it’s completely exhausting, prohibitively expensive, and almost everything about it f**king sucks,” said study co-author Lorraine Moens, explaining that the moment a woman becomes pregnant, unfamiliar hormones begin to hijack her body; then giving birth is absolute hell; and once the baby is born, the mother barely sleeps for months. “Even after children are old enough to take care of their basic bodily functions, our study found a parent still spends half her day either driving them somewhere, buying them stuff, or arguing with them about some unbelievably stupid, boring crap. Most women, it turns out, just don’t want to deal with that sh*t.

Read more of this article: Study Finds American Women Delaying Motherhood Because the Whole Thing Blows (The Onion, June 18, 2021).

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Why the U.S. Birth Rate Keeps Getting Lower, and Why It Matters was last modified: August 11th, 2021 by K.O. Herston

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