U.S. Fertility Rate Falls to a Record Low for the Second Year in a Row

The U.S. birth rate has been falling since 2008, when the Great Recession began. Ten years later, the recession has ended, but fewer babies are being born. Here's what you need to know.

In 2017, the fertility rate fell to a record low for the second year in a row, according to data released by the National Center for Health Statistics. The specifics: The fertility rate declined to 60.2 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age, down 3 percent from 2016. And the number of births in the U.S. fell 2 percent to 3.85 million, which the report notes is the lowest in 30 years.

"The decline in the rate from 2016 to 2017 was the largest single-year decline since 2010," the CDC said.

Just as it did last year, the report showed interesting differences among age groups. For women aged 20-24 and 25-29, birthrates fell by 4 percent. For women in their 30s—a group that had recently seen years of rising birthrates—the rate fell by 2 percent in 2017. That said, they still maintained the highest birthrate of any age group, at 100.3 births per 1,000 women.

It also bears noting that birthrates are on the rise for women over 40. For women aged 40 to 44, there were 11.6 births per 1,000 women, up 2 percent from 2016, according to the CDC's provisional data. Another clearly positive highlight: The rate of births to teens has dropped 55 percent since 2007 and 70 percent since its peak in 1991, Brady E. Hamilton, a statistician and demographer with the National Center for Health Statistics, tells the New York Times.

But what's to account for the continued decline in baby-making among millennials? There are a bevy of possibilities, from increased access to and dependence on distracting technology, social media, and dating apps to financial challenges that people in their 20s and 30s still face, with a recession in effect or not. Though many progressive companies are expanding family leave policies, plenty of would-be parents are left wondering if they would be given any time off after welcoming a baby. Health care costs are another concern. 

At the same time, and perhaps as the result of financial uncertainties that are baked into society, many millennials want to focus on building their careers before turning their attention to family life.  

All of that said, researchers can't conclude whether birth rate decline over the past two years is indicative of a temporary dip or a bigger trend that will continue for years to come. Donna Strobino, a demographer at the Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, told the New York Times, “It’s hard to tell whether this is a dip that we periodically see in fertility or this is a long-term trend due to major social changes."

In the meantime, let's hope the decline spurs conversation on how the U.S. can better support would-be millennial parents and, perhaps eventually, their L.O.s.


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