The United States, long a target of envy by many European and East Asian industrialized countries for its “high” birth rate, has recently seen its own birth rate decline. The recession has been blamed and would seem to be a no-brainer as a cause, but one cannot assume cause and effect from births. Few demographic events cause as much interest as peaks and troughs in the birth rate. Nine months after events such as large power failures, snowy winters, and even the soccer World Cup, we get questions at PRB asking if there were a spike in births during these things. Couples spent more time at home, in the dark…you get the idea.
The U.S. National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) has released an interesting brief on who may have been most affected by the recent recession and where they might be. Births fell from an all-time high in 2007 of 4,316,233 to 4,131,019 in 2009, a decline of 4 percent. But, of course, rates tell the story better than just numbers. The numbers, however, can be very meaningful if you happen to be in the baby formula or diaper service businesses.
In 2007, there were 69.5 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 compared with 66.7 in 2009. This is referred to by NCHS as the fertility rate, but is also often called the general fertility rate (GFR). By age, the largest decline was among women ages 20 to 24. Childbearing fell from 106.3 births pr 1,000 women in that group in 2007 to 96.3 in 2009, a 9 percent decline. Does that reflect a lack of confidence in the outlook for jobs among women or couples “just starting out?” Fertility among the 25-to-29 age group, the next older, fell by 6 percent. That group, which has had the highest rate in recent years, dropped from 117.5 in 2007 to 110.5 in 2009. The decline was far less, only 2 percent among women in their 30s and even rose among women in their 40s, although latter group has much lower rates.
Interestingly, fertility rates have fallen significantly more among most non-white groups than among whites: 3% for non-Hispanic whites between 2007 and 2009, 4% for non-Hispanic blacks, 9% for Hispanics, 3% for American Indians and Alaskan natives, and 4% for Asian and Pacific islanders. This, in turn, has had a significant effect on fertility in states where non-white groups are relatively more prominent than the American average. I might speculate that this occurred because rates of poverty and economic uncertainty are higher among groups other than non-Hispanic whites.
It will be interesting to see if this effect is lasting. If the structural changes in the American economy--greater income inequality, higher rates of poverty, and so on--aren't reversed, then a long-term decline in fertility rates caused by the inability of parents to support the relatively large families common in the United States seems believable.