Sunday, June 16, 2019

U.S. birth and fertility rates continue falling and setting record lows for Father's Day

Happy Father's Day!  Just as I did last year, I am "writing about the lower birth rate for Father's Day, even though that is usually considered a concern of mothers.*

Just like last year, the birth rate hit another record low, as CBS News reported last month.

America's baby bust isn't over. The nation's birth rates last year reached record lows for women in their teens and 20s, a government report shows, leading to the fewest babies in 32 years. The provisional report, released Wednesday and based on more than 99% of U.S. birth records, found 3.788 million births last year. It was the fourth year the number of births has fallen, the lowest since 1986 and a surprise to some experts given the improving economy.
Gizmodo included even more facts in its article on the subject.
[T]he national birthrate, measured as the number of births per every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 to 44, also took a drop for the fourth year in a row. Overall, the country hasn’t seen this few births since 1986.
There’s also been a continuing decline in the fertility rate, defined as the number of children a woman has over her lifetime. In 2018, the rate was 1.72 births per every woman, a decline from 1.76 births in 2017. Experts consider a rate of 2.1 births to be a baseline for ensuring that younger generations can continue to replace the aging population with no problems, a threshold the U.S. has consistently failed to meet for a decade.
I found the CBS News report, while good on the facts, short on analysis.  That's not the case with the following clip from KSNT News from Topeka, Kansas, Report shows U.S birth rate is declining.

In addition to the reasons for the declines among most age groups and increases among older women, the expert from the Cleveland Clinic connects the increase in premature births to the trend towards delayed childbirth.  That's decent analysis of the data.  Still, it misses some of the economic dimensions of both the causes and effects of lower birth and fertility rates.  For those, I turn to Gizmodo.
But there are likely other worrying things that are making pregnancies among women in their 20s less common, namely the lingering after-effects of the Great Recession. Research has consistently linked a struggling economy to fewer births, and in the U.S., this latest decline began in 2008, when the recession hit.

While some people’s financial fortunes (mostly the rich) have since recovered and the economy as a whole is considered healthy, it’s people in their 20s who are often still struggling to stay afloat. And this financial stranglehold is clearly affecting some young adults’ plans for parenthood. A 2018 survey commissioned by the New York Times, for instance, found that nearly two-thirds of adults cited the expenses of child care as a reason for not having children. In fact, it was the most commonly-cited reason.
I first made this point in Next Media Animation thinks low birth rates in the U.S. and China aren't all good eight years ago.  I expected that as the economy improved, birth rates would pick up.  That hasn't happened.

Gizmodo also analyzes the possible effect of lower fertility rates.
Again, as with the birth rate, this isn’t necessarily a doomsday scenario. Many similarly wealthy countries, such as Canada, have rates even lower than that. In some ways, a lower fertility rate could be viewed as a sign that an industrialized country is doing relatively well. It can mean, as mentioned above, that more women have the reproductive freedom to have (or not have) children at their choosing. The closer the birth rate becomes to that of countries like Greece and Japan, though, the more trouble that could spell in the future, with a growing aging population that can strain a country’s resources and labor shortages.
That's a concern elsewhere as well, as France 24 English reported in Drop in world fertility rates leading to 'baby bust' last year.

Women are having fewer babies in developed countries. That's the conclusion of a new global report that warns the current population in some of the world's wealthiest nations can't be maintained at the current birth rate.
I'm ambivalent about this development, as I wrote last year.
I have been in favor of zero population growth for as long as I can remember.  However, I'm not sure the U.S. economy is set up for a stable or slowly declining population, a point I made in the Hipcrime Vocab: Why Slowing Population Growth is a Problem.  We are going to have to figure how to do so.  Otherwise, I might live long enough to experience the wisdom of the saying "Be careful what you wish for; you might get it."
I repeated a similar sentiment in my comment on Going South at Kunstler's blog last month.
It always struck me as odd that, if the economy is supposedly so good with a 50-year low unemployment rate, U.S. birth and fertility rates are falling and the fertility rate is at a record low.  The answer is that, as our host pointed out, the economy isn't actually that good because it's unequally distributed.  On the one hand, it's leading us (as in the U.S.) to do our part to slow the growth of population and affluence, the P and A in I (impact) = P * A * T, where T is technology, which ideally could counteract the effects of the other two variables.  On the other, I and other advocates of zero population growth should be careful what we wish for.  We might not like how we get it.
That includes accepting more immigrants to counteract lower population growth and stagnant or shrinking economies.  I'm O.K. with that, but Trump is in office in large part because many Americans are not.

Enough finding a dark lining in a silver cloud.  It's Sunday, so it's time for an entertainment feature.  As I promised on Mother's Day, "I'm saving Star Wars names for Father's Day.  Stay tuned."

*That written, there are "Men Going Their Own Way" (MGTOW) types who are allies of the men's rights advocates (MRAs) that I criticized in Recycled comments about the men's rights movement that are cheering this development in the comments to the videos I posted because it means men are avoiding marriage, fatherhood, and child rearing and support.  They're not entirely wrong factually, although I think they are wrong morally as well as giving themselves and men in general too much credit.


  1. Y'know Pinku, if EVERYONE on Earth would just stick to a one-child policy, after four generations, our species' cancerous infestation of the planet would be back to manageable levels, and we might halt the Sixth Extinction. Of course, it's not going to play out that way, and we Yeast People are going to destroy ourselves after eating every last sugar molecule in the bottle...

    I'm proud to say that I only spawned one. With two ex-wives to my credit, and only one child between us, we've been WAY under the replacement rate. And my kid doesn't want to have any herself -- partly because she's a Millennial who's just not wanting to be a bourgeois parent, but also because she's convinced the world is farked, so why bring a new human into it when they're likely to cop it in a coming Dieoff.

    I might not have even produced that much. But my first ex, who had literally been a card-carrying member of Zero Population Growth, was feeling optimistic in the late 1980s, when communism fell and it seemed that we were no longer living in the shadow of sudden nuclear annihilation. So we made a conscious choice to spread our genes into the new world of peace and progress that we thought was coming. Worldly-wise and cynical as we had been -- having lived through Vietnam and been highly politically aware -- no way could we have imagined how screwed-up The Ruling Bastards would make things...

    I wonder how much of the decline in birth rates in the Developed World is due to a sense of despair amongst potential mothers (something that the middle vid touches on lightly. But not TOO much, because TV news can't be too much of a bummer, or else ratings will suffer.) I think people know that something bad is coming, not matter how much they try to deny it and push matters back into the 1950s of their imagination. Why create a child who's just going to die prematurely in a dystopian hellscape? If one is part of the Thinking Class that mades life decisions with forethought, instead of just stumbling along to the beat of happenstance. "Idiocracy" is looking more like a documentary every day, though.

    1. It would be hard enough to get everyone to stick to a two-child policy. Even the Chinese gave up on a one-child policy, which they never applied to everyone anyway, just ethnic Chinese in cities. Even so, that would be below replacement rate, which would make population decrease, just more slowly. That ties indirectly into the inspiration for this blog, as Earth in Niven's Known Space had that two-child policy, but decided to keep the population constant by holding a birthright lottery. The result was Teela Brown, who was incredibly lucky.

      Thanks for adding more to the story of X#1 and your daughter Blaze. Yes, that kind of nihilism shows up in my students. They really don't see the world getting better. The smarter ones are likely to get involved in climate strikes, which I've written about here.

      Heh, you and I are the same age. I can see that the end of the Cold War could inspire optimism. After all, how could the people in power screw things up even worse? Well, we found out that things can always get worse.

      You're right about the emotion being despair, but it isn't necessarily that the world will be a dystopian mess. Remember, these are kids who grew up on Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. They've been told the story that they can overcome the oppressive regime. No, it's despair that they can ever get ahead of their student loans and low paying jobs and afford children. Fix that, and the birth rate will go up, even if the future past that looks grim.

      But, yes, "Idiocracy" looks less fantastic and more realistic all the time. After all, the current president is worse than Macho Comacho. He actually cared about his countrymen.

  2. What I really wanted to spout in response to this post, though, was my conviction that humanity needs to invent a NEW form of economic system based on SHRINKAGE, not perpetual growth. One in which reducing the population CONCENTRATES the existing wealth, rather than eternal exponential expansion (which is, of course, impossible on a finite planet.)

    What would an economic paradigm look like if there were fewer people and everybody got a BIGGER piece of the pie? Is it possible to have a financial system that does not depend on debt-money based on compounding interest? To the extent that I've searched around (not super-diligently) I haven't found anyone who theorised a deflationary system of civilisation. No Karl Shrinx who conceived a "Das Compactitall." The potential for new economic conceptions based on that is broad, if you ask me. Only, nobody's thinking that way. Could they?

    One of the arguments I've seen about the needs for endless population growth is "who's going to take care of the old people if we don't breed a lot of new young ones?" With technology and high productivity, plus better medical care enabling older people to be healthier for longer, and let me be morbid -- acceptance of self-euthanasia by a lot more people -- staffing the nursing homes of the 21st Century isn't going to be such a huge issue.

    I still reckon humanity is going to have what the Archdruid calls a catabolic collapse, though. No planning, just lurching. Not all the way back to the Stone Age in one fell swoop, but lots of re-sets to lower levels of energy use.

    Ah well -- it was good to be Us, but it's gonna suck to be Them. Sorry, people of the future! I tried to do my bit to make things better, but for too many years, I was part of the problem because I only knew how to play based on the rules of the game I was brought up in. I wouldn't have burned so many gallons of petrol driving all over the United States for so many decades, and later flying in airplanes from one side of the globe to the other. It seemed like a fun thing to do at the time. And it was, for me. If I had known how it burned up YOUR as-yet-unlived existence, though, I woulda dialled it back a bit.

    1. An economic system that isn't based on continual growth -- that's something Chad at the Hipcrime Vocab blog wondered about for years. He thought the idea of fewer people getting a bigger piece of the pie was better than what we were getting now. Unfortunately, the last time in history I can recall that happening was after the Black Death. That's exactly the kind of world they experienced. I'm not in favor of half the people dying in a pandemic in a decade just to make that happen.

      Since you're a nurse, you would know about the likely future of gerontological care, so I believe you. Remember, my ex is also a nurse, so that kind of thinking does not surprise me in the least.

      The Archdruid's idea of catabolic collapse is something I'm trying to forestall. Not prevent -- I know better. All civilizations fall. I just want to make sure it doesn't happen on my watch.

      As for your final paragraph, I tell my students we don't inherit the world from our parents, we borrow it from our children. I hope that message sinks in.

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