Insights & Trends
When I was growing up in the 70’s, my mother always loved Spring because with it she claimed, came a “new crop of babies”. I’m not sure which factors led to this springtime birthing phenomenon but certainly mothers were much younger, and families were much larger than they are today.
A word about fertility rates. They are an important measure of a country’s well-being and economic health. If a fertility rate is too low, we start to worry about “replacement humans” in terms of our workforce and economy. If it is too high, it can clearly drain resources. The perfect fertility rate to sustain our current population is about 2.1. Fast forward to 2019 when according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, America has hit a 32- year low for fertility rate of 1.72. We’re actually in the throes of a major baby bust and the social, economic and political effects of that will be long lasting and dramatic.
So, what’s up with that?
How did the Boomers give birth to a generation of Busters?
Since 2007, the rate of teens giving childbirth is half. There are a couple of reasons for that including access to birth control and sexual health education. Some sociologists also point to a cultural shift where teens are spending more time online with peers and less time in the backseat of a car. Speaking of cars, this cultural trend extends to driver licenses as well. In 2014, just 24.5 percent of 16-year-olds had a license, a 47-percent decrease from 1983, when 46.2 percent did.
Although marriage is less a consideration for family planning than in the 1980’s, millennials are putting that off, too. Women are marrying on average at age 27, up from 22 in 1980. And while this is contributing to postponing a family, the good news is that millennials are killing divorce.
The Bust is in large part due to women who are postponing childbirth, with the CDC finding birth rates declined for women aged 15 to 34. In 2016, 1.2 million millennial women reached a milestone, they gave birth for the very first time producing 85% of America’s babies. According to Pew Research, in 1972 the average age of a first-time mom was 21 years old but today, the average is nearly 27 years old with many metro areas including Manhattan, San Francisco and Boston being well over 31 years old. It stands to reason that the longer a woman waits to begin her family, the smaller that family will be.
For a variety of reasons that include financial security, career advancement or a late start, many millennial couples are opting to raise an only child. Recent reports have indicated that the gap between the number of children that women want to have and the number of children they will actually have is the highest it has been in 40 years.
There is a close correlation between economic distress and fertility rates. In 2007, the U.S. had a record high birth rate yielding 4.3 million babies. When the economy collapsed in 2008 along with consumer confidence, so did our birth rate with net loss of about 300,000 infants per year with declines continuing toward unprecedented lows. Birth rates for ethnic groups who were hit particularly hard with the recession are even steeper declines. For example, birth rates among Hispanics dropped 6% from 2008 – 2009.
While the economy has recovered (for now), birth rate declines are still being felt. President of the Pew Research Center Michael Dimock said the 2008 recession’s effect on Millennials and the initial “slow start” to their careers will be a factor in U.S. population as well as in American society for decades. Just because the GDP is back up and unemployment rates are down, Millennials are still recovering from student loans and the psychological effects of the Recession. In fact, they will likely never make up the ground they lost at the beginning of their careers.
Interestingly, older first-time moms, aged 35 – 44 are the one segment whose birth rate has increased. A combination of postponement reasons and healthcare advancements in fertility treatments and genetic testing have made it safer to have a baby after age 40. But again, while this segment is seeing a slight increase in birth rate, don’t expect them to fill the gap – their more mature age means a high likely hood of a much smaller family.
What can we do today to address the population bust? At a minimum, we must support the Millennials with affordable options to starting and building their families. A comprehensive economic safety net that includes student loan forgiveness, paid family leave for both mothers and fathers, world class, affordable healthcare and education systems and affordable and sustainable childcare are the minimal requirements. In other words, we must focus on what is best for children. If we are diligent about creating the best possible environment in which to happily and successfully raise the next generation, we automatically support the next wave of American parents.
Here’s what has not changed since the 70’s – the unparalleled rewards of parenting and the unbridled joy of raising children. With support, this generation can move from Busters to Parennials.
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