Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"The Baby Bust of 2009 in the United States"

Carl Haub at the Population Reference Bureau blog has pointed out that in 2009--likely because of the economic calamities of that year--has fallen significantly.

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.


Cicerone said...

It could be lasting. I think it depends on how the unemployment rate develops in future. At the NCHS there is also data for the first half of 2010. There it seems that the decline in births has continued. I estimate fertility falling to a bit over 1.9 in 2010. With Latvia, the case of the US is unique. Other developed countries that released data on 2010 had rises in their birth rate, Germany's number of births rose by around 3-4%.

In the 1970s and 80s, fertility in the US hovered around 1.8. In the 90s and the 00s, it rose to 2-2.1, because of the boom in the economy in the 90s and the housing bubble thereafter. I think there is a very high probability that fertility will decline to 1.8-1.9 again.

ben said...

1.8-1.9 is still "relatively" high in comparison to most developed countries. Only France (if you include the oversea areas), Ireland and Israel I think have a higher rate.

With immigration and raising longevity the US population will continue to grow at a nice pace.

jemand said...

If it ever drops too far, they can just offer to forgive a quarter of your student loan debts upon the birth of your first kid, another third after the second, full forgiveness after the third, and after the fourth you get any payments you previously made on those loans back as a cash payment, too. Done and done.

Anonymous said...

The reduction in births at college age is probably because more women went to college than before. That is not retraining caused by the recession, as these women had not been trained before. It probably has more to do with comrade Obama spelling out the idea that all Americans should have one-year of post-high school education, regardless of their intellectual abilities. Jemand certainly misses the point that there is some disjunction between birth at 20 and college loans (or anything having to do with college).

jemand said...

Wait, I'm actually confused what you mean... since you mention attending college as a source of the reduction, isn't that "something to do with college?"

I was leaning your direction too, butt so far as I know, there has not been a giant jump in attendance of women at colleges and universities in the last three years, rather the increase was more gradual, started earlier, and in any case is much less likely to be involving continued attendance of the 25-29 year old group that saw the largest drop.

However, college costs HAVE been rising exponentially recently, far above inflation, and the increase has been concentrated since 2000. This means, roughly, that those cohorts who started college (at 18 or so) post 2000, would be suffering under a concentration of the student loan burden, and it is this cohort which has seen the most significant drop in fertility. I tend to think the school loans set the stage and the recession pulled the trigger. I might be wrong, but it seems to me the timeline works well.

jemand said...

of course, an easy counterargument to my point is that births have fallen dramatically in Europe and somehow we're just now getting the normal developed country birth ratios.

In which case, the way we've concentrated loan debt among young women might offer a very powerful incentive to have more children, if we wielded it correctly

Randy McDonald said...

Fertility rates have recovered in many European countries--Germany stands out as the main exception--with cohort fertility rising to or above replacement levels in much of northwestern Europe. The recent notable (if small) increase in French fertility corresponds roughly in time to the recent notable (if small) decline in American fertility.

Debt of many kinds, incidentally, is also a problem for young men. Is heavy indebtedness the sort of thing that will encourage young men to become parents?

Scott said...


Alternatively, the convergence of fertility rates of minority groups toward the rate for whites in the US could be the result of cultural assimilation.

CB said...

@Randy: I still have hope for my country :D

The provisional data up to October 2010 in Germany shows that births have recovered since 2009 and grown a bit more:

I think that 2010 will be the first year since reunification Germany will post a fertility rate above 1.4. Of course it's only a small victory, but it leads to hope.

Patty said...

I think high birth rate is good for overall economy. In some countries when birth rate is low, those countries sometimes open up immigration policy more. This is my 2 cents.