There was a collective bi-partisan freak out last week when the Pew Research Center released a report finding that U.S. birth rates hit a record low in 2011. Before doing anything crazy, like implementing social programs the rest of the developed world has enjoyed for decades, I recommend taking a closer look at the numbers to see that really, this is good news.
According to the National Vital Statistics Report there were 45,793 fewer births in the US in 2011 than there were in 2010. That drop was sufficient to lower the birthrate to 63.2 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age (15-44), the lowest rate ever reported for the United States since data started being collected in the 1920’s.
Of that decline in total births, 38,404 (84%) was due to a reduction in births to women between the ages of 10 and 19 years, and a further 26,475 (58%) was due to a reduction in births to women between the ages of 20 and 24.
In total, there were 64,879 fewer births to women under the age of 24 in 2011, compared to only a year earlier. And that can only mean one thing – the number of births to women over the age of 24 actually increased between 2010 and 2011.
The rate of teen births has been falling quickly in recent years – down to 31 per 1000 women age 15 to 19 in 2007 from 41.5 per 1000 in 2007 – which, last time I check, is what we all wanted.
Many of these women who did not give birth in 2011, those who have caused so much consternation among policy pundits, will go on to have families – they are just waiting until they become adults.
If that is true, then the current decline in birth rates is only a temporary blip as we adjust to a new, older, age at which women are having their first child.
And for those who want to argue that falling fertility is hurting the ability of the US to be competitive on global markets, having teen birth rates that are between four and six times higher than comparator countries cannot have helped make the nation as rich in human capital as it could have been – and presumably will be now that fewer children are becoming parents.