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What Happened to America's Scheduled "Baby Boom?"

January 25, 2018
Katie Visco
Elderly Couple with Baby and Toddler

According to experts from the U.S. Census Bureau and Demographic Intelligence, birth rates were predicted to increase starting in 2014, giving us a miniature baby boom. Instead, they've dropped. Demographic Intelligence reports that births decreased by about 2.8 percent in 2017. This amounts to an average of 1.77 children per woman, which is under the "replacement rate" of 2.01 children per woman. Predictions fell short by about 210,000 babies - the lowest amount in 38 years.  

Why was it predicted?

Demographers believed we would experience a baby boomlet - a mini or secondary baby boom - due to economic recovery and improving employment rates. A peak number of millennial women reaching their early to late 20s was additional cause to expect higher fertility rates, but we're experiencing the opposite.  

Why isn't it happening?

Reasons behind the decline are unclear, but experts have a few theories. Women could be choosing to postpone or even forgo having children at all. Data from a General Social Survey indicates a drop in sexual activity in young adults may be the primary reason. Demographic Intelligence reports show frequency of sex among young adults ages 18-25 has fallen from 91 percent in 2010-2012 down to 78 percent in 2014-2016. Research from psychologist Jean Twenge of San Diego State University offers another explanation. Perhaps overuse of smartphones and social media may be responsible for creating a disconnect between people. A decline in young adult relationships directly correlates to decreased sex and thus births. Abortion is a non-contributing factor, as percentages have diminished.  

The impact of not having a baby boom

Possibly the most significant impact dwindling birth rates may have is on the elderly generation, according to researchers at Boston College's Center for Retirement Research. A small working population will struggle to support the needs of a large elderly population. Social programs such as Social Security and Medicare will suffer or become strained. Fewer people paying to support those benefiting from these systems will eventually lead to the depletion of funds. In fact, researchers are already questioning whether the Social Security Trust Fund will remain intact. Projections say it could be drained as early as 2030. Geoffrey T. Sanzenbacher, associate director of research at the Center for Retirement Research, says another potential problem could be a compromised ability for people to physically care for the retired folks. Relatives of the elderly and other informal caregivers are the main providers of care. Boomers outnumber their children. If parents are divorced, that means their adult children are required to manage two households, or look into formal caregivers. The question remains: will we be able to provide enough support for the elderly? However, there is some good news. A more positive outcome of reduced fertility rates is a decreased risk of overpopulation. Edwin S. Rubenstein from the organization Negative Population Growth says fewer people means our eco-system will have a better chance of replenishing the resources we heavily consume. Experts are unsure whether this dip in birth rates will be a long-term trend. Either way, we need to start thinking about how we're going to answer some of the questions this unexpected turn of events has presented. How will we meet the needs of the elderly population?

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