U.S. fertility is not recovering from the financial crisis — and demographers aren’t sure why.
The fertility rate fell to a record low 62.9 births per 1,000 women aged 15-44 in 2013, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
The total number of births, at 3.96 million, inched up by a mere 4,000 from 2012, the first increase since the financial crisis. But the total fertility rate, or TFR, the average number of children a woman would have during her child-bearing years, fell to just 1.86, the lowest rate in 27 years. TFR is considered the best metric of fertility. A TFR of 2.1 represents a stable population, with children replacing parents as they die off.
Demographers expected the fertility rate to fall during recession, as financially strapped families put off childbearing. But what has surprised some demographers is both the depth of the decline and the fact that fertility has continued to drop even over the course of the country’s five years of slow but steady recovery. The rate has fallen steadily each year since 2007, when it stood at 2.1 percent.
The result: There would have been at least 1.3 million more births during the recession and recovery if fertility had reMained at 2007 levels, calculated Kenneth Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire.
Johnson noted that the excess of births over deaths is now the lowest it has been in 35 years. There were more deaths than births in a third of U.S. counties last year. “More people died than were born in Maine for the second year in a row and West Virginia again had more deaths than births as it has for a number of years,” Johnson wrote.
Why the decline in fertility has persisted even as the worst effects of the labor market have abated is “an excellent question that no one knows the answer to,” according to Johnson.
One foreseen factor behind the dropoff in childbearing is the rapid decline in Hispanic-American fertility.
For several decades, high Hispanic childbearing has been driving U.S. population growth. White fertility has been under the 2.1 replacement rate for decades, and ranged from 1.7 to 1.9 in the 2000s. The TFR for black Americans first fell below 2.1 in the early 2000s.
But the number of children per Hispanic-American woman has plummeted from just under three in 1990 and 2.7 as recently as 2008 to 2.19 in 2012, just above the replacement rate.
That decline has been mirrored in other Hispanic countries. Mexico’s TFR has fallen precipitously, from 6.7 in 1970 to 2.2 in 2012, according to the World Bank. A similar decline has taken place in El Salvador, and to a lesser extent Honduras and Guatemala, all three prominent countries of origin for American Hispanics.