US Birth Rate Hits All-Time Low: What's Behind The Decline?

The number of babies born in the United States has hit a 40-year low, according to figures published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Provisional 2017 estimates reveal that around 3.8 million babies were born in the U.S. in 2017, a fertility rate of 1.76 births per woman. This is a 2% drop from 2016 - marking the largest single-year drop in the U.S. birth rate since 2010, and is significantly lower than the 4.31 million babies born in 2007 when the fertility rate was 2.08 births per woman.

When the data is restricted to women aged 15 - 44, there were around 60 births per 1,000 mothers - a 3% drop from 2016, and the lowest record rate since the government began keeping track in 1909. 

Since 2007, fertility has fallen the most for the youngest women, but in the last year, declines have set in for women in their 30s as well. Fertility declines increasingly seem to be about much more than just postponed fertility, or else these women must be planning to have some very fertile 40s.

At least through 2016, this trend appeared to be mostly driven by changes in marital status. Births to never-married women are down more than births to ever-married women: age-adjusted marital fertility is down 14% since 2007, while age-adjusted never-married fertility is down 21%, as of 2016. Preliminary data from several states suggest these trends are likely to continue in 2017. -IFS

The teen birth rate fell 7% from 2016-2017, down to 19 births per 1,000 teen mothers aged 15-19 - while the birth rate for women under 40 generally declined to record lows. 

When looking at fertility by race, the decline has hit minorities particularly hard vs. non-Hispanic whites. 

the decline in fertility has been far greater among minorities than among non-Hispanic whites.


The deficit varies across racial and ethnic groups. American Indians and Alaska Natives have it worst among racial groups, having lost a whopping 15% of expected fertility from 2008 to 2016, or about 83,000 births, with total fertility rates falling from 1.62 births per woman to a shockingly low 1.23. It’s unclear exactly why Native American fertility has fallen so quickly and why it is so low, but they are indisputably the hardest-hit race in the fertility declines of the last 10 years. -IFS

African American births are down 9.6%, or around 700,00 babies - which is only slightly worse than whites, who are down 9.3%, or around 3.2 million births.

"Black fertility declined from 2.15 births per woman to 1.89, while white fertility fell from 2.14 to 1.82," reads IFR's analysis, while "Asians experienced a less severe decline, but their fertility was somewhat lower to start with."

The fertility rate among whites is a bit misleading, admits IFR, as it includes most Hispanics - who have historically higher birth rates than non-Hispanic whites. When looking at Hispanics as a whole, the birth rate between 2008-2016 has declined nearly 19%.

Thus, in racial or ethnic terms, America’s “Baby Bust” is kinda, sorta, a little bit racist: it’s hammered Native Americans and Hispanics particularly hard, and hit even African Americans harder than whites generally, and certainly harder than non-Hispanic whites. The call to boost fertility is far from being a call for whites to keep up with minority fertility; rather, it’s an exhortation that we need to be listening to the fertility desires of women of racial and ethnic minorities, who are experiencing precipitous declines in fertility, largely unnoticed by the white-dominated world of mommy-blogs and late-in-life fertility treatments. Any serious pro-natal policy in America worth its salt would primarily result in birth gains among minority mothers, not white ones. Accelerating the national birth rate would also accelerate the pace at which the non-Hispanic white population share declines.-IFR

North Dakotans Are Gettin' It On

While birth rates in most states have declined, North Dakota has experienced an increase in births. 

On the other hand, residents of Arizona don't seem to feel the need to breed - where fertility rates have fallen from 2.47 births per woman in 2007 to an estimated 1.81 last year.  

Provisional data from early 2018 suggests these declines are likely to continue. Arizona is double-whammied by two different racial or ethnic trends: steep declines among Hispanics and steep declines among Native Americans. Both groups make up a larger share of Arizona’s population than the national average. Both groups have seen steep declines within Arizona; steeper even than their peers in other states. -IFR

In terms of education, the drop in fertility rates have been higher for less educated woman vs. their more educated peers. As IFR notes, "Age-adjusted fertility has fallen 15% for women with a bachelor’s degree or less, versus just 7% for women with graduate degrees. On the whole, births to women with no bachelor’s have totaled 12% below what would be expected if 2007 fertility rates had continued, yielding 3.1 million missing births, while births to women with a bachelor’s degree are down 10% for 1.1 million missing births, and births to women with a graduate degree are down just 7%, or 300,000."

The takeaway is that class is not the biggest factor in declining fertility rates. Instead, race, ethnicity, marital status and geography appear to have far more relevance.