Worrisome fertility news out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even though the US economy seems to be picking up, the nation’s birth rate isn’t. From the WSJ:
The nation’s fertility rate flattened out in 2012, after four years of hefty declines, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The latest findings, which pushed the rate—the number of births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44—to the lowest level on record, largely confirm preliminary figures released in September.
The rate dropped slightly to 63 births per 1,000 women from 63.2 births. The number of children U.S. women are expected to have over their lifetime also slipped last year to 1.88 from 1.89 in 2011.
Separately, the CDC recently released early findings on 2013 that also failed to show a post-recession uptick in births: According to these initial figures, the U.S. fertility rate dropped to 62.7 births per 1,000 women during the 12-month period ending June 2013, down from 63 between June 2011 and June 2012.
On Monday, the U.S. Census Bureau said America’s population grew just 0.72% between July 2012 and July 2013, the slowest rate of growth since around the Great Depression and well below the nation’s post-World War II average of 1.2%.
So what’s happening here? One obvious explanation is that the recovery — such as it is — has been a historically weak one, maybe the weakest ever after such a big downturn. That’s not good for family formation. Now one of the academics quoted in the WSJ piece points to non-economic factors such as a “growing number of young adults are going to college and postponing marriage and family formation.” Sure. But money is still likely a big issue. A Gallup survey from last September found 65% of Americans — it didn’t really matter if the respondents had kids or not – mentioned “not having enough money or the cost of raising a child” as a main reason couples do not have more children. What isn’t the case is that people are becoming less interesting in having kids. From Gallup:
Americans say the ideal number of children per family is 2.6, which is on par with what Gallup has found since the late 1970s. Gallup has been asking Americans “What do you think is the ideal number of children for a family to have?” since 1936, when the ideal number per family was 3.6, on average. This number declined between 1957 and 1978 to an average of about 2.5 children, where it remains today. Americans of all ages report that about the same number of children would be ideal, with younger Americans (18 to 29) having a slightly higher ideal average (2.7) than those 65 and older (2.5).
The WSJ story gives kind of an ice-water explanation as to why falling fertility is a bad thing: “Low fertility means less growth in a country’s population, barring a pickup in immigration. Fewer people can mean fewer workers to propel the economy and a smaller tax base to draw from to pay the benefits due retired Americans.”
As a proponent of an expanded child tax credit, which would hopefully give a nudge to the US birth rate, I like to stress that more kids means a younger society that is more dynamic, creative, and entrepreneurial, as Nobel laureate economist Gary Becker has written.