Birth rates: Why aren’t Americans having babies?
“Americans are less inclined than ever, it seems, to be fruitful and multiply,” said Jeff Jacoby in The Boston Globe. The U.S. fertility rate hit a record low in 2017, according to alarming new data, with 60.2 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age. We’ve dropped below the “replacement” fertility rate of 2.1 births for each woman of childbearing age to 1.7 births. “That should trouble anyone who hopes that America’s best days are yet to come.” In Japan and other countries, plummeting birth rates have led to economic stagnation and social malaise, with fewer workers to replenish a shrinking labor force and care for the elderly. “This slump began, somewhat predictably, during the Great Recession,” said Christine Emba in The Washington Post. Birth rates usually decline during recessions and rebound once things improve, but so far that hasn’t happened. So, “what is holding up the stork?”
The answer seems obvious to me, said Amy Westervelt in The Guardian. “The U.S. is a remarkably harsh place for families, and particularly for mothers.” It’s one of the few countries in the world without government-subsidized maternity leave, and only 56 percent of private companies provide maternity leave. Mothers who want or need to work can also “look forward to an increasingly large pay gap for every child they have, plus fewer promotions,” as well as painful child-care costs. In 33 states and Washington, D.C., average child-care costs now exceed the price of in-state college tuition. Want more babies? Make it easier to be a parent.
It’s never been easy to be a parent, said Michael Brendan Dougherty in NationalReview.com, but people used to have large families anyway. Now upwardly mobile professionals think any couple with more than two kids is weird, and that worldview is contagious. “I wouldn’t be surprised if America’s fertility rates began crashing to the depths seen in Russia and Central Europe after the Cold War.” One solution is to bring in more immigrants to fill jobs and pay taxes, said Olga Khazan in TheAtlantic.com, but that can bring a nationalistic backlash. Recent research shows that as immigrants replace dwindling native-born populations, many people “become more xenophobic, and thus more inclined to support nationalist parties.” But without immigration, the same communities shrink, age, and decline, fueling even more hopelessness and resentment. It’s a “doom loop” that only more babies can fix. ■