Pew Research Reports U.S. Baby Bust

The U.S. birth rate is now at the lowest recorded level ever - or at least since record-keeping began in 1920. Births were increasing but plunged after the 2007 recession. The biggest decrease is among immigrant groups, particularly Mexican women.
December 3, 2012, 6am PST | Irvin Dawid
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Gretchen Livingston and D’Vera Cohn, senior researcher at the Pew Hispanic Center and Senior Writer at the Pew Research Center, respectively, write on Pew's new findings captured in their Nov. 29 report, "U.S. Birth Rate Falls to a Record Low; Decline Is Greatest Among Immigrants" (PDF).

"The overall U.S. birth rate, which is the annual number of births per 1,000 women in the prime childbearing ages of 15 to 44, declined 8% from 2007 to 2010.

Final 2011 data are not available, but according to preliminary data from the National Center for Health Statistics (a division of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention), the overall birth rate in 2011 was 63.2 per 1,000 women of childbearing age. That rate is the lowest since at least 1920, the earliest year for which there are reliable numbers.

In addition to the birth rate decline, the number of U.S. births, which had been rising since 2002, fell abruptly after 2007 — a decrease also led by immigrant groups. The birth rate for U.S.-born women decreased 6% during these years, but the birth rate for foreign-born women plunged 14%—more than it had declined over the entire 1990-2007 period.  The birth rate for Mexican immigrant women fell even more, by 23%."

New York Times columnist, Ross Douthat, writes that the birth rate plunge will cause the U.S. to lose its demographic edge over its competitors.

"Today’s babies are tomorrow’s taxpayers and workers and entrepreneurs, and relatively youthful populations speed economic growth and keep spending commitments affordable. Thanks to our relative demographic dynamism, the America of 50 years hence may not only have more workers per retiree than countries like Japan and Germany, but also have more than emerging powers like China and Brazil."

Douthat bemoans the findings of the Pew Research Center, and suggests a way to boost fertility.

"For the first time in recent memory, Americans are having fewer babies than the French or British.  Government’s power over fertility rates is limited, but not nonexistent. America has no real family policy to speak of at the moment, and the evidence from countries like Sweden and France suggests that reducing the ever-rising cost of having kids can help fertility rates rebound.  Whether this means a more family-friendly tax code, a push for more flexible work hours, or an effort to reduce the cost of college, there’s clearly room for creative policy to make some difference."

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Published on Thursday, November 29, 2012 in Pew Research Center
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