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Fertility Rates Continue to Drop Even After Great Recession

January 5, 2018
Katie Visco

Historically, American fertility rate has followed trends that mirror economic conditions. Because of this trend, it's no surprise that fertility in the US dropped after the Great Recession in the late 2000s. Nearly a decade later--after returning to a normal unemployment rate--the United States' fertility rate has yet to return to normal. According to Demographic Intelligence, births will continue to fall 2.8 percent this year. Additionally, the fertility rate will decline to 1/77 children per woman, where the replacement rate is 2.1 children per woman. 

What's so problematic about this? The United States is not reaching its replacement rate, which has serious social and economic repercussions in the distant future, such as limited innovation, economic fallout, and less caretakers for the increasing aging population.

Here, we'll break down the fertility rate by numbers and demographic, followed by an explanation of possible reasons for this decrease in US fertility. 

Trends in United States' Fertility Rate

Fertility rates continue to drop in groups with the highest fertility

One of the most celebrated trends in US fertility is the decline in teen birth rates. However, the highest fertility groups--women in their early and late twenties--are also on the decline. Additionally, there is not upward motion in older demographics to make up for this decline in births. Women as a whole are having fewer children no matter their age, and therefore not meeting the replacement rate. 

Racial and ethnics skews exist within the demographic analysis of the United States' fertility rate. Birth rate among Hispanic and black women declined drastically during the recession, closing the gap between minority and white birth rates--and minority groups show patterns of assimilation towards a lower birth rate. 

The United States has also seen a dramatic decline in unintended pregnancy rates--falling from 54 to 45 per 1,000 women. Similarly, the abortion rate in recent years has continued to drop. After all is said and done, fertility rate is approximately six births per 1,000 women. 

Possible Explanations for Decreased US Fertility Rate

Can decline in fertility be explained by societal change?

There are a variety of factors that could be playing into a declining United States fertility rate. Some suggest that people are having less sex due to decreased human interaction introduced by the high-usage of smartphones. Others suggest that as contraceptive becomes more readily available and sex education classes become more liberalized, women can better control their family planning goals. With better family planning techniques, women have more opportunities to grow their careers and live their dreams prior to becoming mothers. This is great, overall, but still is an inhibitor of women in the United States reaching the replacement rate. 

So what's there to do now? Government officials and demographic specialists have suggested a variety of ways to encourage the growth of families. With shifts in the number of women married, it could be a possible solution to further incentivize marriage with tax breaks, and provide even greater tax credits to families with more children. Of course it is up for debate as to whether this--or any solution--will truly incentivize women to have more children.  

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