The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.
-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia
Nearly a century ago, Theodore Roosevelt warned that unless the average man and woman would have at least three children, the country would die a slow death. Judging from the latest report from the National Center for Health Statistics, the vital signs of the United States, as reflected in birthrates, are not encouraging. For the third year in a row (2010), measures of childbearing have declined, a pattern that not only matches declines the country suffered in the early 1970s but also reverses the trajectory of modest increases in rates of U.S. childbearing between 1998 and 2007.
The preliminary estimate of the total number of births in 2010 (4.0 million) represents a drop of 3 percent from 2009, and a decline representing the largest absolute decrease since 1972. Likewise, the preliminary General Fertility Rate declined by 3 percent to 64.1 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age. The preliminary Total Fertility Rate (TFR), the estimate of the number of births that the average woman would have over her lifetime, dropped to 1.93, also a 3-percent drop, from 2.00 in 2009. Moreover, the preliminary TFR in 2010 represents a 9-percent decline since 2007, when the TFR was 2.12, the highest since 1972.
While all three measures had been improving every year from 1998 to 2007, the setbacks in 2008, 2009, and 2010 turn back the clock to what birthrates were in 1999. Yet with declining fertility, the portion of births occurring outside of wedlock remains historically high; 41 percent of all births in the United States in 2010 were to unwed mothers.
Demographic Intelligence, a demographic-forecasting firm headed by Brad Wilcox of our editorial board, believes that these years of declining fertility are a fluke, a by-product of the Great Recession. Its “U.S. Fertility Forecast” projects birthrates will rebound modestly to 1.98 this year. Nonetheless, that projected number not only remains under pre-recessionary fertility levels but also well short of the TFR that Theodore Roosevelt claimed represented a healthy society. That projection may also be optimistic, given President Barack Obama recent decision to pay American couples not to have children through “free” birth control via employer-provided health-care plans. If that order goes unchallenged, look for continued declines in birthrates and continued increases in the proportion of all births to unmarried women.