US births reach low­est level in three decades

The Tribune (SLO) - - Insight - BY CARLA K. JOHN­SON

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.

The fertility rate of 1.7 births per U.S. woman also fell 2%, mean­ing the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion isn’t mak­ing enough ba­bies to re­place it­self. The fertility rate is a hy­po­thet­i­cal es­ti­mate based on life­time pro­jec­tions of age-spe­cific birth rates.

Whether more U.S. women are post­pon­ing moth­er­hood or for­go­ing it en­tirely isn’t yet clear.

If trends con­tinue, ex­perts said, the U.S. can ex­pect la­bor short­ages in­clud­ing in elder care when aging baby boomers need the most sup­port.

“I keep ex­pect­ing to see the birth rates go up and then they don’t,” said de­mog­ra­pher Ken­neth M. John­son of Uni­ver­sity of New Hamp­shire’s Carsey School of Pub­lic Pol­icy.

He es­ti­mates 5.7 mil­lion ba­bies would have been born in the past decade if fertility rates hadn’t fallen from pre-re­ces­sion lev­els.

Other ex­perts are not con­cerned, pre­dict­ing to­day’s young women will catch up with child­bear­ing later in their lives. The only two groups with slightly higher birth rates in 2018 were women in their late 30s and those in their early 40s.

“Our fertility rates are still quite high for a wealthy nation,” said Caro­line Sten Hart­nett, a de­mog­ra­pher at the Uni­ver­sity of South Carolina.

Amer­i­can women are start­ing fam­i­lies sooner than most other de­vel­oped na­tions, ac­cord­ing to other re­search . Other coun­tries are see­ing sim­i­lar de­clines in birth rates.

Young Amer­i­cans still want to have chil­dren, but they don’t feel sta­ble enough to have them yet, said Karen Ben­jamin Guzzo, who stud­ies fam­i­lies at Bowl­ing Green State Uni­ver­sity in Ohio.

The U.S. could do more to en­cour­age child­bear­ing with parental leave, preschool ex­pan­sion and child care sub­si­dies and other poli­cies aimed at help­ing young adults strug­gling with stu­dent loan debt and hous­ing costs, Guzzo said.

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