Births in the US have increased (+1%) for the first time in seven years.
Diving into the data, we see that 20-30-year-old women are no longer the dominant category of new mothers. As a percentage, 35-39-year-olds continue their decades-long increase, and, with recent advances in medicine, 40-plus-year-olds continue to have more children safely. Great news all around.
Americans cannot replace themselves
Babies are awesome. I love babies.
While welcomed news, the slight uptick recently masks a longer, larger trend in the US: fertility rates are so low one generation will not replace itself (the US has one distinct advantage — immigration — but that's for another post.).
In fact, we're not even close to the replacement threshold.
Global decline in births
Fewer babies being born is a big challenge, though it is not uniquely American. Most countries have seen rates decline since the 1980s.
This is a long-term challenge because today's babies are tomorrow's economic, political, and social order. Little humans born in 2022 will start voting in 2040, become career-focused around 2042, and become prolific consumers as income and wealth increase.
Are births declining because of global warming? All the poison we put in our bodies? Nope, nothing like that. The reason is straightforward.
Women have emerged as a professional force globally. Today's working woman is highly motivated, kicking ass professionally, and waiting longer to start a family.
This decision, like all decisions, comes at the cost of fewer little ones.
Lower rates were on cruise control. Then Covid-19 emerged.
Women were hit hard by the pandemic-induced economic contraction. In 2020, the unemployment rate for women doubled — to 8.3% — from a year earlier. Several factors contributed to this sharp rise in unemployment: positions available, categories of work, and personal responsibilities.
All was not lost, though!
Homebound couples had a lot of free time in the dark days of late 2020 and early 2021. They did not waste it.
China's brutal experiment in population control
It's worth noting that, vis-a-vis birth rates, China stands apart for all the wrong reasons.
Starting in 1979, Deng Xiaoping, China's leader after Mao, instituted a brutal population control campaign in China. After destroying production capacity and causing mass starvation, the Chinese Communist Party justified its population control campaign — the so-called One Child policy — as an economic necessity.
At the time, China was home to a quarter of the world's people, who were occupying just 7 percent of world's arable land. Two-thirds of the population were under the age of 30 years, and the baby boomers of the 1950s and 1960s were entering their reproductive years. The government saw strict population containment as essential to economic reform and to an improvement in living standards.