- 18:25 08 October 2012 by Sara Reardon
US fertility has been declining steadily since 2008, according to a report published last week by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). The report was compiled from birth certificates registered across the US.
In 2008, the average number of children per woman was 2.1, roughly the figure needed to replace each parent and keep the population stable. In 2011, this figure dropped to 1.9.
“It’s not necessarily worrisome,” says Mark Mather of the Population Reference Bureau in Washington, DC. “But if we were to see a sustained drop over five to 10 years, that may be a concern.”
The falling fertility rate is tightly tied to the economic downturn during the past four years, Mather says. Couples are putting off having children, and women’s salaries have become more important to household income, he says.
If the economy bounced back, birth rates would probably increase, says Mather. But it is not clear whether that would be the case for long. It might be counterbalanced by the long-term increase in the number of women entering college and the workforce who are subsequently delaying having children or having fewer of them.
The report found that the number of women giving birth in their 30s increased by 3 per cent in 2011 compared with 2010. Women in their 40s also had more children than in 2010. “If you’re younger and the economy isn’t good, you have the option to delay having a child,” says Brady Hamilton, a co-author of the report, based at the NCHS headquarters in Hyattsville, Maryland. “For older women, that’s not a viable option.”
The US fertility rate is still far higher than those of most European countries: Germany, for instance, averages 1.36 children per woman. And the welfare problems caused by having an ageing population aren’t yet as urgent as they are in Japan, say, where nearly a quarter of the population is older than 65, Mather says