The Declining Birthrate Doesn’t Spell Disaster

A demographer explains how we will adjust to the coming changes in our population

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With the birth rate at its lowest in recorded history, some are afraid that the United States is heading toward a demographic crisis in which too few children will lead to too few workers to build – and pay for – a prosperous future. This view has been popularized most recently by Jonathan Last, the author of What to Expect When No One’s Expecting. Last paints a picture of fiscal threats – from the growing burden of retirees – and cultural consequences such as the decline of innovation and waning political will to fund schools and invest in children. But these fears are unwarranted. Other indicators show that we do not face a population crisis, and I believe that we have the resources to adapt to the upcoming demographic shift.

To start, our birth rate might be dropping, but our fertility rate—that is, how many children the average woman is expected to bear in her lifetime— is still higher than it was through most of the 1970s and 1980s. The recent decline came after a two-decade period in which fertility rose more than 10 percent. For all the concern about childlessness now, the percentage of 50-year-old women who never bore a child today is actually lower than it was half a century ago (although those who did have children then tended to have more).

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In comparison to other countries, the fertility rate for the United States is remarkably high for our level of development. Only 12 countries are richer than the U.S., and all have lower fertility rates (even after the recession). The countries with more babies all have lower incomes. Not only is the U.S. not being dragged down by low fertility, it seems to be thriving on relatively high fertility. (By the way, Sweden’s low fertility rate hasn’t stopped the Swedes from extending life spans more than three years beyond ours, and maintaining a poverty rate about half as high as ours.)

Meanwhile, in the next few generations, our population will increase, not decrease. From our current 316 million, the Census Bureau projects the U.S. population will grow by 33 percent, to 420 million, by 2060.  Much but not all of that growth results from immigration and the babies born in immigrant families. However, even with a more conservative estimate of immigration levels, the Bureau projects the population will grow 26 percent.

Certainly, we do face some challenges, including the aging of the U.S. population. The percentage of people age 65 and older is projected to increase from 15 to 22 percent. Providing retirement support and medical care for these elders will require additional resources from the working-age population, but that’s a policy and political challenge, not an existential crisis.

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If it turns out that we do need more working-age people to pay into pension and insurance programs and fund schools for American children, millions of potential immigrants from many parts of the world are willing – even eager – to join our ranks. Currently, the 40 million or so immigrants living here now comprise 13 percent of the population – still less than the 15% reached during peak immigration a century ago.

Childlessness, small families, and even the possibility of population decline in the distant future do pose potential problems to U.S. society, but the challenges aren’t insurmountable. Compared with other wealthy countries – even those with lower growth rates – we have a relatively poor record on education and health care. We would do better if we focused our attention on the wellbeing of however many of us there are instead of worrying about the fact that there might not be enough of us in the future.

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13 comments
MichelleMulch
MichelleMulch

We need LESS people in the world, not more. If the birthrate doesn't decline that will spell far worse disaster globally. We are reaching a point where we will not be able to sustain our numbers.

vodyarkin
vodyarkin

And you're on Russian demographics and poked his finger right now, on the contrary

Ahaha

AbrahamYeshuratnam
AbrahamYeshuratnam

Declining birthrate will soon change the demographic landscape of America. Middle East immigrants do not want planned parenthood. Their religion encourages them to produce more children and it is a sort of population jihad to occupy America. Obama encourages largescale immigration. This population explosion of the immigrants will soon make Americans a minority in their own country. No wonder Putin has banned gay and lesbian marriages and has been openly encouraging Russians to produce more children.

ObsessedAmerica
ObsessedAmerica

Declining American birthrate is good news. American kids are so extremely rude, obnoxious, entitles, and disrespectful that the less, the better. Actually, seeing American kids' unacceptable behavior in public places is the best birth control. Many people just look at them and decide that they don't want this kind of mess in their lives. On the other hand, there are societies in the world where birthrate is very high, like sub-Saharan Africa, and these people, regardless of having so many kids, succeed in teaching them politeness and respect. It's the American idea of worshiping kids never saying "no" to them that fails so terribly.

http://kidobsessedamerica.com/

pendragon05
pendragon05

Right now, the population of the USA is at an all time high population of 316,368,685. Over three hundred million people. Our nation population, ideally, should be less than one third of that amount. Natural resources are getting more and more scarce every day. Breeding is overrated.

LTCiaccio
LTCiaccio

@ObsessedAmerica I stopped disliking kids shortly after I moved into an immigrant neighborhood in Queens.  They hold open the door for me, ask politely to pet my dog, and don't make strange screeching sounds in playgrounds and parks.  They sit quietly in restaurants and eat.  Back when I lived in the suburbs, none of these things were true.  I don't find it's particular to immigrants from any one region, though. 

JohnJohnson3
JohnJohnson3

@ObsessedAmerica Only African American teenagers are the one that causes the most crime, fights and violence. Black people birth rates are too high compared to whites and asians. i agree their birth rates should be lowered.

eagle11772
eagle11772

@pendragon05 I agree completely.  We already have TOO MANY people in the U.S., and it naturally leads to more pollution and further degradation to our environment.  One thing we MUST do is stop ALL immigration into the U.S. !  Just say "NO !"

redhen1919
redhen1919

@LTCiaccio @ObsessedAmerica  In truth, the fertility rate for black women is hardly different than for whites. For every 1000 white women 15-44 there are 66.5 live births, while for every 1000 black women that age there are 71.7. Indeed, the fertility rate for black women has fallen by more than half in the last forty years, such that the gap between black and white fertility has been slashed by nearly 80 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The birthrate for unmarried black women is at a forty-year low and the rate of babies born to black teens hasn’t gone up one iota since 1920.

And speaking of teens, only six-tenths of one percent of black babies are born to girls under fifteen, and the birthrate for black teens 15-19 has dropped by a third since 1991. Overall, more than 8 in 10 black babies are born to moms in their 20s or older, and the teen birthrate has fallen faster among black youth than any other racial group over the last decade.

The belief that black women have too many children, at whatever age, and can’t properly care for them is equally mythical. The average number of minor children in white households and black households is identical, and for female-headed black and white households the difference is statistically insignificant. Contrary to the widespread notion that black women typically have four or five children, only 1 in 20 black female-headed families have four or more kids. Even for families receiving public assistance — and before welfare “reform” bumped tens of thousands off the rolls and restricted eligibility — the typical “welfare family” of whatever race included a mother and two children, and was actually slightly smaller than the typical non-welfare family.

APV83
APV83

@eagle11772 @pendragon05 We certainly do have TOO MANY PEOPLE in the U.S. Nobody should  think breeding is a solution to "not enough people". Entitling the elderly also poses fiscal risks, so they, just like the Childed Majority, should be treated with less entitlement.

eagle11772
eagle11772

@APV83 I agree with you 100%.  Considering all of the death and destruction and harm we have caused to other life forms on this planet, it was a BIG mistake for humans to ever come here.  It will be better for all the other life forms here when we are finally gone.