Americans just celebrated the birth of Christ 2,000 years ago. What we are celebrating a lot less these days is the birth of our own babies.
In short, America’s fertility rate is in a free fall.
Over a 60-year period between 1957 and 2017, fertility rates in the United States plummeted. About 11 percent fewer babies were born in America in 2017 (3,853,472) than in 1957 (4,316,233.) But drop is at the same time as the population in America doubled, meaning the fertility rate as measured by number of births per woman in the country has fallen by more than half in 60 years.
Unlike all of the nonsense about Trump and Russia, this is actually is an existential threat — economically and culturally — at least based on what has happened in other western or industrialized countries whose birth rates have declined to below replacement level, i.e. Europe and Japan.
This little discussed or reported issue is put in painful new context in a deep-dive study conducted by the American Enterprise Institute in “Declining Fertility in America” by Lyman Stone of the Institute for Family Studies.
Stone writes, “The specter of low fertility, and ultimately of declining population, has come to America.”
“Most of these changes in age-specific birth rates, however, can be attributed to changing marital patterns. Controlling for marital status, fertility in the United States has been roughly stable for the past decade and a half. Most changes in marital status, in turn, can be attributed to the increasing delay in young people getting married. In other words, declining fertility is really about delayed marriage.”
So why is marriage being delayed?F
Stone offers up five reasons. Ironically the central problem revolves around the large numbers of young going to college now, taking on enormous debt, and too many getting degrees in fields that in no way financially justify the level of debt. (We’ll leave out for now the government’s role in that great debt expansion because of soaring college costs.)
Here are Stone’s reasons:
- Increased young adult debt service costs due to student loans;
- Decreasing young adult homeownership due to rapidly rising housing costs and student loans;
- Increasing years spent actively enrolled in educational institutions, which tends to reduce birth rates dramatically while enrolled;
- Higher cost of market-based childcare, alongside rising need for hired childcare due to diminished extended family support and more two-earner families; and
- Changed social and cultural expectations of parents and parenting, making children and childbearing more burdensome than for previous generations.
I think the last one is 180 degrees off based on the one right before it. Two-income parents sending their children to day care and then to school have far less childbearing burden then moms who stayed at home and raised their babies, at least until school age.
Dropping below replacement rate is bad enough, but if Stone is right about the causes, and it seems likely he is to some degree, then the solution is virtually impossible to get to: Encourage fewer children to go to college, back the federal government out of guaranteed loans and force universities to compete for those fewer students by charging less. The first two lead to the third, but they do not seem remotely likely to happen.
Stone writes: “…the entire educational complex is presently structured in such a way as to discourage family formation for young adults.” Yes. Because a lot of people in charge of the complex benefit from that.
So then, on to the coming crisis — a real crisis, not a faux Russian election interference crisis.
The negative results of the plummeting birth rate are economic.
A thriving country requires a growing economy and a growing economy require more workers — yes, even in this age of rapid technological advance and a shifting economy, we still have an unemployment rate well below 4 percent and many companies are just going with unfilled openings. Eventually that begins acting like a choke chain tightening around the throat of the economy.
The negative results of the plummeting birth rate are political.
With fewer Americans entering the workforce and larger amounts of Americans in the retirement stage, and generally living longer, how does Social Security possibly hold up? Even before these numbers, Social Security was well enroute to bankruptcy as precious few in Congress are willing to touch it.
Dittos with Medicare. Same dynamic, but throw the rising costs of healthcare on top of it. Neither program is sustainable right now. But with a declining birth rate, the collapse of them rockets towards us much faster.
The negative results of the plummeting birth rate are cultural.
This is a problem Europe has been facing for decades as it’s birth rate dropped below replacement rate more than a generation ago. Their solution was increasing immigration to provide the needed workers. The immigrants came largely from North Africa and the Middle East, some from Asia. They did not assimilate or really want to become French or English (or Belgian or Italian or German.) Political correctness only adds to the problem.
That is not only making France less French and England less English, it is creating more chaos, conflict and violence — while not actually producing the desired results of young immigrants paying for older French and English natives’ old-age checks and healthcare.
This is not a pretty picture for America’s future. But it is one that is a making of our own choices. Changing the trajectory means a sea change in the culture that places a greater priority on families and children than on college and careers. I’ll let the reader judge the likelihood of that.