The birth rate in the United States is declining, and the drop in births is steep. According to data, the birth rate is at the lowest since 1979 — lows not seen in over 40 years. But why is the birth rate declining so precipitously, and does it really matter if it is?
According to CBS News, the latest report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics on May 5, 2021, the birth rate in the United States fell another four percent in 2020, a massive drop.
This drop has landed the birth rate in the country at its lowest point since 1979 and continued a six-year trend of decline after the Great Recession tanked the American birth rate. Here’s why the decline isn’t all bad news — but still, mostly bad news, why people are worried about it, and what the government can do to ensure people start making babies again. (And no, it’s not sending along some mood lighting or oysters to get the mood going.)
The decline isn’t all bad news
Diving deeper into the numbers, we can see the decline isn’t all bad. In fact, the biggest and most consequential drop in the birth rate was among teenagers between 15 and 19. In 2020, the numbers dropped to a record low, landing at 15.3 births per 1,000, eight percent down from the previous year. “That continues a significant downward trend over the past two decades — down 75% from 1991, the most recent peak,” the publication reports.
It’s a good thing when the country sees fewer teenage pregnancies. Still, the numbers continue to decline countrywide, and in all age groups. According to the CDC, the total fertility rate, which reflects the average number of times a person will give birth in their lifetime, has been “consistently” below replacement levels since 2007. And this is sounding an alarm for some experts who say the falling birth rate impacts the older generation’s ability to be supported by a new generation of taxpayers and workers.
Here’s why people are worried
Dowell Myers, who studies demographics at the University of Southern California, said in an interview on CBS This Morning that the lower rate is a “crisis.”
“We need to have enough working-age people to carry the load of these seniors, who deserve their retirement, they deserve all their entitlements, and they’re gonna live out another 30 years,” he said. “Nobody in the history of the globe has had so many older people to deal with.”
That means that there could be fewer people working in care work for seniors, that fewer taxpayers will be helping the Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid systems afloat, and that an outsized population of seniors will drag on the economy and the social safety net.
So, what are we to do about this?
Well, for starters, we shouldn’t blame people who can give birth and choose not to for the declining birth rate. Experts have pointed out that the best way to help stabilize or increase the birth rate in the country is to offer more support to working parents.
Student loan debt, flattened wages, skyrocketing home prices, the costs of education, a massive pandemic that has led to millions of people losing their jobs, a lack of an affordable child care system, and expensive health care for moms that can make giving birth cost several thousands of dollars (and uniquely dangerous, with a high infant mortality rate) are all culprits in the declining birth rate that should be tackled immediately. Taxes could be raised on the wealthy to help fund the Social Security system, for example, making it less subject to the whims of how many children are born in a given year.
American children make up the poorest group in the United States; child hunger is an astounding problem, given how wealthy the country is. These are all decent reasons why people are not ready to have children.
And fixing the problems would help. Families often choose to expand their family based on if they can afford the child care down the road with one income or two. Add to that the nonexistent paid maternity or paternity leave policies and a work-life balance that doesn’t exist – it’s not a surprise that the birth rate is continuing to decline.
The crisis in the birth rate is there — but without serious steps to help families afford their kids, it’s likely here to stay.