Births plunge to record lows in US

Downward trend has not abated even as US jobs rebounded and economy has improved

TAMPA • Births in the United States have plunged to record lows not seen in decades, marking a profound cultural shift that could have ramifications for the future economy.

The overall fertility rate, which shows how many babies women are having in their childbearing years, and indicates whether the population is replenishing itself, fell to 1.76 births per woman last year, down 3 per cent from the rate of 1.82 in 2016.

This marks "the lowest total fertility rate since 1978", said a report by the National Centre for Health Statistics, part of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, the US birth rate plunged to a 30-year low.

The 3.85 million US births last year were the fewest since 1987, as American women under 40 continued to delay childbearing.

About 77,000 fewer babies were born last year than in 2016 - a drop of about 2 per cent year-on-year.

  • 1.76

    Overall fertility rate in the United States last year.

The latest downward trend began around the onset of the global financial crisis in 2007 and 2008, but has not abated even as US jobs rebounded and the economy has improved.

"To me, the biggest surprise is the continuing decline of fertility rates among young women," said Mr William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow of the Metropolitan Policy Programme at The Brookings Institution. "About 10 years since the Great Recession, we still see this declining fertility among women in their 20s and that could be problematic if it continues for another three or four years."

Fewer babies means fewer young workers in the coming years, cutting away at the size of the workforce, and possibly slashing productivity and tax revenue.

Combine that with increasing numbers of elderly people entering retirement, and dollars for vital services can get very tight.

Dr Donna Strobino, vice-chair of education population, family and reproductive health at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, said: "You've got both declining birth rates and an ageing population, and that is why demographers are concerned."

Women aged 40 to 44 were the only group that saw an increase in births, said the report.

Whether they cannot afford children, or they have access to contraception and simply prefer to wait, women in their 20s and 30s continue to put off having children in America.

The US may be sliding downwards but still has a higher fertility rate than Italy (1.4), Germany (1.5) and Japan (1.4). France is slightly higher, at 1.8. The optimal fertility rate to sustain a population is 2.1.

Singapore's fertility rate last year was 1.16.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2018, with the headline 'Births plunge to record lows in US'. Print Edition | Subscribe