Births plunge to record lows in United States but im­mi­gra­tion could re­verse that

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Births in the United States plunged to record lows not seen in decades, mark­ing a pro­found cul­tural shift that could have ram­i­fi­ca­tions for the econ­omy, ex­perts said on Thurs­day.

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 1.82 in 2016.

That marks “the low­est to­tal fer­til­ity rate since 1978”, said the 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 – Amer­i­can women un­der 40 are con­tin­u­ing to de­lay child­bear­ing. About 77,000 fewer ba­bies were born last year than in 2016 – about a 2 per cent drop year on 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 re­bound and the econ­omy has im­proved.

“The big­gest sur­prise is the con­tin­u­ing de­cline of fer­til­ity rates among young women,” said 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.

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

But other signs are pos­i­tive, es­pe­cially for teenagers aged 15 to 19. Among them, the birth rate fell 7 per cent last year com­pared with a year ear­lier, mark­ing “an­other record low for this age group”, said the re­port.

The teen birth rate has de­clined by 55 per cent, or nearly 8 per cent per year, since 2007, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

The only group where births in­creased was women aged 40 to 44, the re­port said.

Whether un­able to af­ford chil­dren, hav­ing bet­ter ac­cess to con­tra­cep­tion or sim­ply pre­fer­ring to wait, women in their 20s and 30s con­tinue to put off hav­ing chil­dren in Amer­ica. This is a trend that has been vis­i­ble in the data – with a few ups and downs – since the 1970s.

“Women are be­com­ing more ed­u­cated, they are in the work­force, they are pur­su­ing their ca­reers,” Ms Strobino said.

“And in the ab­sence of poli­cies that re­ally help women who are work­ing to take some time off post-par­tum, you are prob­a­bly go­ing to see a con­tin­u­a­tion of this de­lay.”

The United States may be slid­ing but it still has a higher fer­til­ity rate than Italy (1.4), Ger­many (1.5) and Ja­pan (1.4).

France is slightly higher, at two births per woman. The op­ti­mal fer­til­ity rate to sus­tain a pop­u­la­tion is 2.1.

Ways to boost the birth rate in­clude eco­nomic in­cen­tives, paid parental leave poli­cies and al­low­ing more im­mi­grants to en­ter a coun­try, ex­perts say.

For Mr Frey, the find­ings of­fer a barom­e­ter of the na­tion but are not a cause for alarm.

“I don’t think it is such a big is­sue that you need to push the panic but­ton,” he said.

“The coun­try isn’t go­ing to run out of peo­ple.”

In­deed, the to­tal pop­u­la­tion in the US in 2018 is 327 mil­lion, up from 325m in 2017, ac­cord­ing to the US cen­sus.

AP

While Amer­i­can women in their 20s and 30s are de­lay­ing hav­ing chil­dren, women in their 40s are hav­ing more

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