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Where have all the babies gone?

The Great Recession, like most periods of economic decline, caused unemployment to spike and birth rates to drop. But in the current recovery, unlike others, the economy is improving while birth rates are not. Birth rates fell to a historic low in 20 16, with a mere 62 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44. In 2015, New England (except Maine) and the District of Columbia had the lowest birth rates in the U.S., while South Dakota, Utah and Alaska had the highest.


Multiple factors have contributed to these low rates in recent years. The first is the recession, as rising unemployment is linked to corresponding decreases in the birth rate. Young workers in particular were hit hard, and the combination of rising costs of living and weighty student loan debts has made supporting children difficult. Even young adults who are more financially secure have chosen to delay marriage and children for other reasons.

Immigration is an important factor as well, as recent immigrants have among the highest birth rates of any group. But immigration gains from Mexico have stalled, according to the Pew Research Center, and several states that typically have received large numbers of immigrants are seeing their birth rates decline sharply.

The effects of fwer births won't be clear for decades, but experts anticipate a smaller working population in future yea rs. With baby boomers retiring, fewer workers could cause labor shortages and put a strain on state tax revenue and social services like Medicare and Medicaid.

But lower birth rates bring good news too: Fewer teen and unintended pregnancies also are contributing to the decline. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the teen birth rate dropped 46 percent between 2007 and 2015. Rates have also dipped for women in their 20s, while rates for women in their 30s and early 40s are at their highest since the 1960s.

Some scholars predict that lower rates of early and unintended childbearing will have positive implications for education, the workforce and parenting. Older mothers are generally more economically stable and more likely to carry good health insurance, which could lessen the demand for social services down the road. Fewer pregnancies also indicate more women participating more consistently in the workforce, which would help to fill potential labor shortages.

The biggest unknown right now is how many women are simply delaying childbirth and how many are forgoing it altogether. Only with time will we know whether the low birth rate--and all the policy implications that result from it--represents a temporary phenomenon or a lasting feature of American society.


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Title Annotation:TRENDS
Author:Berlin, Olivia
Publication:State Legislatures
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2017
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