There is an unwritten rule among those who watch the economy. When times are good, families have more babies. Across the board, the fertility rate of women of all ages goes up and the population is replenished. Young populations and prosperity are co-related and desired in healthy economies.
However, that is not happening today. The Great Recession of 2008 is over, and the economy is booming. There is no lack of jobs for those who want them. There should be a baby boom that reflects this prosperity. However, the delivery room is ominously quieter. Not even roaring markets can bring them back to life.
The 2017 fertility rates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report a dismal scenario. Last year marked a forty-year low in women’s fertility, which now stands at 1.76 lifetime births per woman. This is the second year in a row that the rate has dropped to a record low.
The drop is dramatic. Women in 2017 are having nearly 500,000 fewer babies than in 2007. This is happening despite the fact that there are seven percent more women of prime-childbearing age. The decline also reflects a deep decline for all racial groups with the deepest drops among minority women. With the exception of women forty or over, the rate has declined for all age groups including women in their thirties that normally has risen as those who delay childbearing start to have children.
The new statistics reflect a larger trend in Italy, Spain, Japan, and other industrialized countries that can no longer replenish their populations. Even baby-unfriendly China is dying as its population ages. Demographers speak of a demographic winter, in which incoming new generations will be overburdened and unable to support their elders.
America has long thought itself exempt from such a winter. When fertility rates went down, it was usually attributed to deferred childbearing due to economic hardships. When business picked up, demographers confidently predicted a corresponding rebound in births.
The new trend suggests something different from past models. It suggests a distorted vision of the individual, family, and life. It signals an extreme individualism that is reorienting people’s priorities.
Millennials are coming of age…or perhaps that is the problem: they are not coming of age. Some youths used to defer babies in the past, but increasing numbers of youth are now deferring adulthood. The verb “to adult,” meaning doing something adult-like while remaining childish, is a sign of the times for those who do not wish to grow up.
Younger generations also have different expectations for hobbies and personal interest. They do not want to be tied down in their youth and look for adventures and new experiences as major goals in their lives. Some have student debt that needs to be paid down. Others prefer to remain single.
Many women are waiting to become established firmly in their careers before venturing into childbearing. In fact, the prime childbearing years coincide with the prime time for career advancement. This postponement has resulted in the rise in births to women in their late forties. Nearly one in five births now occurs to women 35 or older, when childbirth is riskier.
A second factor is the concept of the family is changing radically. Those youths who do marry will often postpone marriage even into their thirties. In many households, the principal breadwinner might be the woman who cannot afford to take time off for children. Millennials also have changing attitudes toward motherhood. They want to have children on their own terms. Thus, children will often not be an immediate priority. They tend to have fewer children and use long-term contraception.
The hedonistic culture is also a factor making America less baby-friendly. People are more self-centered and individualistic. That is why this present period of prosperity is not resulting in more children. People are spending more on themselves and are reluctant to make sacrifices to increase their responsibilities. When life is considered a big party, the desire to keep the party going will always override a concern for the future.
Those studying the problem are perplexed by the downward trend. Usually the natural desire to form a family is strong enough to insure that populations maintain themselves. Despite all the cultural forces that have undermined the family over the years, there have always been those who have carried society forward by welcoming babies in good times and bad.
Now it appears that not even prosperity, which normally makes people more generous, is having its effect. Many of those in the most recent generations have realigned their priorities. And babies, the nation’s future, are not on the list.
As seen on American Thinker.