Economy
Randy Duchaine / Alamy

Baby bust: US fertility rates hit all-time lows

The Great Recession has more women, especially Latinas, postponing childbirth

The impact of the U.S. recession will reverberate for generations to come as women — both Anglos and Hispanics — continue to postpone having children.

For the second year in a row, deaths of non-Hispanic whites outnumbered births from July 1, 2012, to July 1, 2013, according to population estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

“These are the only two years in U.S. history when more non-Hispanic whites died than were born,” said Kenneth Johnson, senior demographer at the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey Institute. Births have been fewer for some time, “but the decline since the onset of the Great Recession has been precipitous.”

The Census Bureau estimates that there were just under 2 million births to whites who are not Hispanic, compared with 2.3 million births at the peak of the economic boom in 2006–07 — a 13 percent drop in just six years.

Latest data also show a decline in births among Hispanic women, another probable result of the economic downturn that has dried up jobs and slowed the flow of Hispanic immigration.

“For the second straight year, Asians lead Hispanics in immigration,” said William Frey, demographer and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “The Hispanic declines in both immigration and births are largely due to the recession and its aftermath.”

The number of Hispanic women of prime childbearing age grew by 16 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to the National Center for Health Statistics’ (NCHS) preliminary report.

“Yet Hispanic births diminished during the period,” Johnson said. “This would only have been possible if Hispanic birthrates dropped significantly.”

The Hispanic total fertility rate dropped from 2.84 in 2007 to 2.12 in 2012, he said.

“It’s a continuation of the trend,” said demographer Cheryl Russell, editorial director of New Strategist Press, publisher of demographic reference tools. “The baby bust has taken everyone by surprise, including the people who made population projections for the Census Bureau a few years ago.”

The agency had projected 7 percent more total births in 2013 than what the NCHS reported in its preliminary report. Women gave birth to 281,000 fewer babies than the 4.2 million that the census had projected.

The discrepancy is even greater among Hispanics. Actual births in that segment of the population were 19 percent below census projections, a demographic shift that might delay the nation’s tipping to a majority-minority status, Russell said.

Johnson warned that the NCHS tally classifies all babies in one race category because some states don’t allow it on birth certificates. But the census counts multiracial births, a difference that may explain its lower count of white births.

The census had expected that fewer than half of the births in 2013 would be to non-Hispanic whites, but the latest numbers show they still account for more than half.

“The fertility rate is at an all-time low among young women under 30,” Russell said. “These young people are financially squeezed, and they have simply stopped having children. Never have young women had so few children in the history of the U.S.”

The rate of women having their first child hit an all-time low for every age group under 30 in 2013.

These young people are financially squeezed, and they have simply stopped having children. Never have young women had so few children in the history of the U.S.

Cheryl Russell

Demographer, New Strategist Press

However, the rate of older women having babies has gone up.

“It’s now or never for them,” Russell said. “They can’t postpone it any longer.”

Natural decrease — more deaths than births — happened in 11 states, including three of the nation’s most populous (California, Florida and Pennsylvania), according to Johnson’s analysis of NCHS data.

“The number of white births may eventually increase again as the recession wanes and women make up for babies that they delayed,” he said. “However, the growing number of older non-Hispanic whites, which will accelerate rapidly as the baby boom ages, guarantees that non-Hispanic white natural decrease will be a significant part of the nation’s demographic future.”

The U.S. is a study in contrasts when it comes to age, the census said Thursday.

The nation as a whole is aging, but seven states, including five in the Great Plains, are getting younger.

“We’re seeing the demographic impact of two booms,” said John Thompson, census director. “The population in the Great Plains energy boom states is becoming younger and more male … while the U.S. as a whole continues to age as the youngest of the baby-boom generation enters their 50s.”

There was more than a 42-year difference between the median age of the county with the highest median (Sumter, Florida, at 65.5) and the county with the lowest (Madison, Idaho, at 23.1).

The median age of the U.S. went up from 37.5 to 37.6 in one year.

Diversity throughout the nation is rising, but California continues to have the largest populations of Hispanics, Asians, American Indians and Alaska Natives and non-Hispanic whites of any state.

New York has the largest black population, but Washington, D.C., has the highest percentage.

“In 26 states, the under-age-5 population is at least 40 percent minority,” Frey said. “Among metros, this is the case for 113 out of 381, and among counties, it’s the case in about a fifth of them.”

At the same time, the mostly white baby boomers are aging, “leading to a race generation gap between the young and old,” he said.

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