Birth rates are falling in the US After reaching a Baby Boom peak in the mid-20th century and a Baby Bust low in the 1970s, the birth rate has been relatively stable for nearly 50 years. But during the Great Recession, from 2007-2009, birth rates plummeted – and they continue to fall. In 2007, the average birth rate was about 2 children per woman. By 2021, this level has fallen by more than 20%, close to a one-century low. Why?
Is this decline because, as some suggest, young people are not interested in having children? Or are people facing increasing barriers to becoming parents?
We are demographers who study how people make plans to have children and whether they can carry out those plans.
In a recent study, we analyzed how changes in fertility goals might contribute to the recent drop in birth rates in the United States. Our analysis shows that most young people still plan to become parents but are delaying having children.
Dive into demographic data
We’re interested in whether people have changed their birth plans over the past few decades. And we know from other research that the way people think about having children changes as they get older and their circumstances change. Some people think that they will have children at first, then gradually change their views over time, perhaps because they have not met the right partner or because they work in demanding fields. . Others don’t want to have children at one point but then find themselves wanting to have children or sometimes having an unwanted pregnancy.
So we need to analyze both changes over time – comparing young people now with those in the past – and changes over a lifetime – comparing a group of people of different ages. together. Neither data set contained enough information to make both of those comparisons, so we combined information from multiple surveys.
Since the 1970s, the National Survey of Family Growth, a federal survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, has asked people about their childbearing goals and behaviors. The survey doesn’t collect data from the same people over time, but it does provide an overview of the U.S. population about every five years.
Using multiple rounds of surveys, we were able to track what was happening, on average, among people born at the same time – what demographers call a “cohort” – when they go through their childbearing years.
For this study, we looked at 13 groups of women and 10 groups of men born between the 1960s and 2000s. We followed these cohorts to track whether members intended childbearing and the average number of children they plan to have, starting at age 15 until the most recent data collected through 2019.
We found remarkable consistency in fertility goals across cohorts. For example, if we consider teenage girls in the 1980s – the group born in 1965-69 – they plan to have an average of 2.2 children. In the same age group at the beginning of the 21st century – the one born in 1995-1999 – girls plan to have an average of 2.1 children. More young adults today plan to have no children than 30 years ago, however, the vast majority of young Americans plan to have children: about 88% of teenage girls and 89% of teenage boys.
We also found that as they age, people plan to have fewer children — but not as many. This pattern was also quite consistent across groups. For example, among those born in 1975-1979, men and women aged 20-24 plan to have an average of 2.3 and 2.5 children, respectively. These averages decreased slightly, to 2.1 children for men and 2.2 children for women, by the time respondents were 35-39. However, most Americans plan to have children, and the average number of children is about 2.
So if fertility goals haven’t changed much, why have fertility rates dropped?
What keeps people from their target family size?
Our study cannot directly address why fertility rates are falling, but we can suggest several other research-based explanations.
In part, this decline is good news. There are fewer unintended births than there were 30 years ago, a decline linked to increased use of effective birth control methods such as the IUD and implants as well as improved coverage from Taoism. Affordable Care legislation.
Compared to previous eras, people today give birth later. These delays also contribute to lower birth rates: Because people start later, they have less time to reach their goal of having children before they reach the biological or social age limit for pregnancy. have a baby. As people wait longer to start having children, they are also more likely to change their mind about parenting.
But why do people start having children later? We hypothesize that Americans find parenting more difficult to manage than in the past.
Although the US economy as a whole has recovered from the Great Recession, many young people in particular feel uncertain about their ability to achieve some of the things they deem necessary to have children – including a good job, a stable relationship and safe, affordable housing. .
At the same time, the costs of parenting — from childcare and housing to higher education — are rising. And parents may feel more pressure to follow in-depth parenting standards and prepare their children for a world of uncertainty.
And while our data doesn’t cover the past three years, the COVID-19 pandemic could heighten feelings of uncertainty by exposing a lack of support among American parents.
For many parents and soon-to-be parents, the “right time” to have another baby or have another child may be increasingly out of reach – regardless of their ideal family size.
Sarah Hayford is a professor of sociology and director of the Institute for Population Studies at Ohio State University
Karen Benjamin Guzzo is a professor of Sociology and director of the Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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