Baby Bust Continues: Births Lowest in 32 Years as Fertility Rate Hits Record Low

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The number of babies born in the US has declined in 10 of the last 11 years as the fertility rate slumps.

The Vital Statistics report on 2018 Births shows the baby bust continues.

Key Numbers

  • The provisional number of births for the United States in 2018 was 3,788,235, down 2% from 2017 and the lowest number of births in 32 years.
  • The general fertility rate was 59.0 births per 1,000 women aged 15–44, down 2% from 2017 and another record low for the United States.
  • The total fertility rate declined 2% to 1,728.0 births per 1,000 women in 2018, another record low for the nation.
  • Birth rates declined for nearly all age groups of women under 35, but rose for women in their late 30s and early 40s.
  • The birth rate for teenagers aged 15–19 was down 7% in 2018 to 17.4 births per 1,000 women; rates declined for both younger (aged 15–17) and older (aged 18–19) teenagers.

The Wall Street Journal comments U.S. Births Fall to Lowest Level Since 1980s.

With the latest decline, births in the U.S. have fallen in 10 of the last 11 years since peaking in 2007, just before the recession. Many demographers believed that births would rebound as the economy recovered, but that trend hasn’t materialized.

Instead, experts say the continuing declines appear to be rooted in several trends, including teenagers and unmarried women having fewer babies, lower Hispanic fertility rates and the rise in women obtaining college degrees.

The decline has important implications for the U.S. economy and workforce. The total fertility rate—an estimate of the number of babies a woman would have over her lifetime—has generally remained below the “replacement” level of 2.1 since 1971. A fertility rate falling farther below replacement level means that, without enough immigrants, the U.S. could see population declines and a workforce too small to support a growing segment of retirees.

Youths Drive Decline

Abortion

Abortion doesn’t appear to be responsible for the birth decline. The Guttmacher Institute found that both the total number and the overall rate of abortions have fallen to their lowest levels since around the time that Roe v. Wade legalized the procedure in 1973. Guttmacher advocates for reproductive rights but its figures are considered reliable by abortion opponents and supporters alike.

Factors

The article cites birth control, education, and waiting longer.

Hope

Demographers hope that as the large millennial cohort, which this year will be between age 23 and 38, moves through their 30s, the birthrate will begin rising again.

But why?

Symptoms

The demographers confuse causes with symptoms.

The causes of the birthrate decline are not birth control or education. Both are symptoms of an attitude change coupled with economic reality.

Initial Cause

  1. Women decided they wanted to enter the workforce. This major attitude change was the initial driving force.
  2. Women needed to enter the work for for economic reasons. Thanks to Fed inflationary policies, it took two incomes to buy things.

The number of births rose from the early 1970s to the mid-2000s, but that masks the true trend as shown in the second chart. Birth rates have been declining since the early 1960s.

Contraceptives were an enabler, but an attitude change coupled with economic reality was the true driver.

Debt and Misplaced Hope

Demographers hope for a millennial rebound. I asked Why?

It's amusing they cannot see the obvious: Student debt and attitudes about debt. Some label student debt a bubble.

Here is a chain of Tweets from yesterday.

Stagnation of It's Own Making

Promises Gone Bust

Debt, more specifically attitudes about debt, is the number one reason that faith in millennials to have more kids is misplaced.

Millennials were told to get an education at any cost and it would work out.

It didn't and won't. Kids saddled with student debt have delayed home purchases, marriage, and family formation.

On top of that, the Fed's inflationary tactics helped boomers with assets but severely punished millennials who cannot afford homes.

Attitudes, Attitudes, Attitudes

Even attitudes towards car ownership have changed. Once again it's the cost of ownership.

Unlike their boomer parents, millennials do not trust debt, at least to the same degree. That is an attitude change the Fed is fighting and the demographers don't even see.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

Comments (67)
No. 1-23
cbide
cbide

Making most immigration legal is the one act that would boost economic growth the most over the longer term. Regardless of why the Baby Bust, allowing immigrants to take the lower paying jobs no one wants boosts growth automatically. Employers make more, workers make money to spend.

Unfortunately the bigots say immigrants cost more then they contribute. That is absolutely untrue. The US Treasury collects billions each year from illegals using phony social security cards and yet pays out no benefits.

There is one reason to limit immigration: Bigotry.

Mish
Mish

Editor

The elephant in the room:

Free benefits and unlimited immigration do not and never will mix

offintherough
offintherough

Was thinking the same thing when I saw the declining birthrate story...the cause is economic opportunity for women increasing, declining for men and economic realities of having children now require two incomes vs. one back 30+ years ago. Children can be wonderful but are a lot of work and frequently are inconsistent with personal goals, particularly for women who need marriage less, inflation which makes all but supporting yourself difficult and half of all kids have seen their parents go through recessions and divorce which deter household formation.

somajarpy
somajarpy

Amazing.

Carl_R
Carl_R

You ask, "what is there to pop" in the student loan issue? The answer is hidden in plain sight, making it easy to overlook. Once student loans became such that you can't get away from them in bankruptcy, they became much, much easier to get, since creditworthiness no longer mattered. As a result, any student just had to sign a paper, and everything was taken care of, housing, tuition, books, and there was nothing to worry about, right? What could possibly go wrong?

The result was a perfectly conventional bubble: Demand for college exploded. There was boom in construction, a growth in enrollment, and salaries, and a dramatic increase in costs of tuition, housing, and books. Even adjusted for inflation, tuition costs have gone up 3-6 times over the last thirty years. The bubble could easily be popped by making it harder to get student loans. Enrollment would fall, and colleges would compete based on affordability. Colleges that overbuilt in the bubble would struggle, or close, but in the end we'd have a leaner, stronger university system, one that once again focused on the quality of the education, and on delivering it affordably.

So much pain... But we can avoid it. We can have free college. That way we don't have to pop the bubble, and we can just make it bigger.