U.S. birth rates reach record lows – even though number of kids most people say they want remains steady

By Sarah Hayford, The Ohio State University and Karen Benjamin Guzzo, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Birth rates are falling in the United States. After the highs of the Baby Boom in the mid-20th century and the lows of the Baby Bust in the 1970s, birth rates were relatively stable for nearly 50 years. But during the Great Recession, from 2007-2009, birth rates declined sharply – and they’ve kept falling. In 2007, average birth rates were right around 2 children per woman. By 2021, levels had dropped more than 20%, close to the lowest level in a century. Why?

Is this decline because, as some suggest, young people aren’t interested in having children? Or are people facing increasing barriers to becoming parents?

Chart shows 50 years of births in the U.S.

We are demographers who study how people make plans for having kids and whether they are able to carry out those intentions.

In a recent study, we analyzed how changes in childbearing goals may have contributed to recent declines in birth rates in the United States. Our analysis found that most young people still plan to become parents but are delaying childbearing.

Digging into the demographic data

We were interested in whether people have changed their plans for childbearing over the past few decades. And we knew from other research that the way people think about having children changes as they get older and their circumstances change. Some people initially think they’ll have children, then gradually change their views over time, perhaps because they don’t meet the right partner or because they work in demanding fields. Others don’t expect to have children at one point but later find themselves desiring to have children or, sometimes, unexpectedly pregnant.

So we needed to analyze both changes over time – comparing young people now to those in the past – and changes across the life course – comparing a group of people at different ages. No single data set contains enough information to make both of those comparisons, so we combined information from multiple surveys.

Since the 1970s, the National Surveys of Family Growth, a federal survey run by the National Centers for Health Statistics, have been asking people about their childbearing goals and behaviors. The survey doesn’t collect data from the same people over time, but it provides a snapshot of the U.S. population about every five years.

Using multiple rounds of the survey, we are able to track what’s happening, on average, among people born around the same time – what demographers call a “cohort” – as they pass through their childbearing years.

For this study, we looked at 13 cohorts of women and 10 cohorts of men born between the 1960s and the 2000s. We followed these cohorts to track whether members intended to have any children and the average number of children they intended, starting at age 15 and going up to the most recent data collected through 2019.

Planned number of children in the US remains steady, chart shows

We found remarkable consistency in childbearing goals across cohorts. For example, if we look at teenage girls in the 1980s – the cohort born in 1965-69 – they planned to have 2.2 children on average. Among the same age group in the early 21st century – the cohort born in 1995-1999 – girls intended to have 2.1 children on average. Slightly more young people plan to have no children now than 30 years ago, but still, the vast majority of U.S. young adults plan to have kids: about 88% of teenage girls and 89% of teenage boys.

We also found that as they themselves get older, people plan to have fewer children – but not by much. This pattern was also pretty consistent across cohorts. Among those born in 1975-79, for instance, men and women when they were age 20-24 planned to have an average of 2.3 and 2.5 children, respectively. These averages fell slightly, to 2.1 children for men and 2.2 children for women, by the time respondents were 35-39. Still, overwhelmingly, most Americans plan to have children, and the average intended number of children is right around 2.

So, if childbearing goals haven’t changed much, why are birth rates declining?

What keeps people from their target family size?

Our study can’t directly address why birth rates are going down, but we can propose some explanations based on other research.

In part, this decline is good news. There are fewer unintended births than there were 30 years ago, a decrease linked to increasing use of effective contraceptive methods like IUDs and implants and improved insurance coverage from the Affordable Care Act.

Compared with earlier eras, people today start having their children later. These delays also contribute to declining birth rates: Because people start later, they have less time to meet their childbearing goals before they reach biological or social age limits for having kids. As people wait longer to start having children, they are also more likely to change their minds about parenting.

But why are people getting a later start on having kids? We hypothesize that Americans see parenthood as harder to manage than they might have in the past.

Although the U.S. economy overall recovered after the Great Recession, many young people, in particular, feel uncertain about their ability to achieve some of the things they see as necessary for having children – including a good job, a stable relationship and safe, affordable housing.

At the same time, the costs of raising children – from child care and housing to college education – are rising. And parents may feel more pressure to live up to high-intensive parenting standards and prepare their children for an uncertain world.

And while our data doesn’t cover the last three years, the COVID-19 pandemic may have increased feelings of instability by exposing the lack of support for American parents.

For many parents and would-be parents, the “right time” to have a child, or have another child, may feel increasingly out of reach – no matter their ideal family size.The Conversation

Sarah Hayford is a Professor of Sociology and Director of the Institute for Population Research at The Ohio State University. Karen Benjamin Guzzo is a Professor of Sociology and Director of the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Comments

  1. Although the article points to some important factors,we are missing forest for a tree. I wish ppl have time to study,”Death of the West”..the Bible of Demographics by Pat Buchanan.
    The deliberate breakup of family system since 60’s and materialism resulted in Race for My Space. Most of White Europe has crossed the Rubicon of below replacement level figure of 2.1,US was to follow suit and now it has gone below.
    US demographic health was sustained by non White immigrants,they too may have become part of the melting pot
    Japan and Russian federation are badly hit at less than one percent fertility rate,the slide in so called international community can only be stemmed by Polygamy, something being propagated by Putin,now.
    Other solution could be gradually returning to family system,but that according to Andres Behring Brevik of Utoya will take the White West to 2080..can we wait.

  2. The data missing from this article is a crucial piece to understanding declining birth rates: abortion rates. Article doesn’t address pregnancy rates, only birth rates. Need the whole picture.

  3. Sex, marriage and child birth were intended to be joined together. The sexual revolution split sex from marriage and sex from child birth. Marriage between a man and a woman is a religious institution. There are a lot of people who don’t believe in God and don’t want sex, marriage and child birth as a package. Also Pat Buchanan wrote a book called “The Death of the West” discussing the declining Western and European birth rate 22 years ago.

  4. This is a blue state issue. In conservative red states white males are as virile as ever, hard working, and getting married and still having large families, while their liberal millennial counterparts in blue states are hacking off their genitals and pretending to be little girls….frankly it’s a win win for humanity as the conservative Christian pop grows by leaps and bounds and the liberal pop self terminates because it can’t figure out what’s between its legs.

  5. I wish they would legalize prostitution in the USA. I have money and a house so am “eligible” to start a family but I am so stressed out and strung out I haven’t dated in years. I wish I could just hire girls, would get me back in “the game” so to speak. Now I just say, “not worth the trouble, I’ll just order take-out and play video games.” Seriously! In Japan and Europe prostitution is legal, even encouraged. Urgh…I hate this country sometimes…

  6. Why is there no mention anywhere in this article about the declining sperm count in American men? Or the long term fertility damage to American women done by contraceptives, even after ceasing them? Or the bloodbath of miscarriage and fetal demise now being caused by vaccinating pregnant women with gene therapy mRNA shots? The Australian birth rate is down 61% since they started covid-vaxxing pregnant women, because their babies can’t make it to term anymore. This “study” in the U.S. that magically ends just before the covid-vax attack was launched on Americans is just a smokescreen. We’re not supposed to talk about the agenda for American demographic collapse.

  7. Not many want children because who really desires to have children in a less free, more fragmented, more costly, socially engineered society? My wife and I could have but chose not to because we were responsible enough to see that we would never want to put a child into a society that the USA has devolved into. It’s hopelessly lost, is irretrievable, and has the morals of trans-whatever! No thanks… Historically these civilizations that head down this pathway are ultimately destroyed. When government and society at large allow the corruption and lasciviousness to continue as it has unabated then let wither away. I won’t put a child through this kind of hell on earth. I frankly wonder why other people do!

  8. It’s just a cycle
    Pig in the snake problem
    Once boomers are gone
    And resources like housing open up
    A baby boom cycle will begin again
    Right now resources are locked up
    And to expensive

  9. Answer: Smartphones. (correlates with 2010 to now) Which equals distraction and never-ending work. Couple that with dating apps that constantly offer the BBD (bigger better deal) – and you have never ending indecison.

  10. Plastics have destroyed male libidos…Female Estorgen in a chemical in the manufacturing process; DELIBERATELY. We, as a people “Americans” are a dying society, Mathematically, at 1.7 birthrate; You are beyond recovery…A society must have a 2.1 birthrate to remain EVEN…All of this is part of the the population control agenda. All the idiots that believe in global warming have doomed us to die…Club of Rome, The First Global Revolution, 1991:
    “In searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like would fit the bill (this is absolute proof that man made global warming is a fabrication)…. But in designating them as the enemy, we fall into the trap of mistaking symptoms for causes. All these dangers are caused by human intervention and it is only through changed attitudes and behavior that they can be overcome. The real enemy, then, is humanity itself.”

  11. i believe government policies have a greater effect on the birth rate then researchers care to admit.
    with the mass incarcerations of the failed drug war accross the United States there was a feeling of why have children if they are just going to be locked up, the policies of government always have a side effect on any population some of these side effects are bad some are good, but the united states appear to have a running history of creating policies that trickle down into a bad side effect onto the common average citizen, i wish that these studies would take into account of what is happening in the societies at the time of the study. an example which was studied was the great depression, of which i think the birth rate did decrease, if the average person views their lives as struggle and hard they wont want offspring, where if the future of a hard struggling persons looks better then the will to bear children should increase, at least it seems that it would work out that way, so with today’s average common citizens view of the future being more dismal than bright, just using that common sense people would want fewer if any children, government laws and policies have more of a weight than anything in the thoughts of to have or not ti have children or other things too.

  12. America has the largest aging population in its entire history. The baby boomers are elderly and so are their children. A good deal of them never had children. The 1960s sexual revolution, the feminist movement and the rise of alternative lifestyles worked against motherhood and the family. Abortion claimed well over 60 million lives. With these demographics America cannot produce a replacement generation and depends on immigrants for population growth. By nature immigrants bring their values and change America. in fundamental ways away from the Protestant culture that shaped it.

  13. The graph displaying intention cuts off at 2004 while the fertility rate graph runs through 2020. How can we possibly compare these two statistics – there is a nearly 2-decade gap in the comparison being made. Careless.

  14. The answer that everybody asks, but nobody wants is simple: Women don’t want children. They don’t want marriage. They don’t even want monogamy or heterosexuality. It’s calculated as children per woman for a reason – women control every aspect of ‘romance,’ from breakups to abortion to sex itself. The data is all there to prove everything posted here and then some. It’s not ‘people’ or ‘couples’ or ‘the economy’ choosing not to have children. It’s women. It does not matter how much wealth or poverty or freedom is present, or what race or religion a woman is. They all eventually default to having less than one children per woman, which cripples a national population.

    1. As a woman who converses with many other women, let me offer a few possible reasons why women may not want kids or as many kids:

      -Women who work full-time still spend 22% more time doing unpaid work than their male partners (childcare, chores, planning, and errands). On average, women spend 2 hours more than men DAILY doing unpaid work.

      -despite having similar access to paid leave, 74% of women stay home with a sick child vs 40% of men

      -the average cost for daycare is over $10k a year

      -only 5% of men take paternity leave, forcing women to do the bulk of infant care

      -Lastly, and this is my subjective opinion, women are finally gaining equity in society and a lot of men don’t like that. They enjoy coming home from work and having for themselves those 2 extra hours mentioned above. Women everywhere can hop online and read comments like yours, shifting all the blame onto women’s equity. Yet we have eyes and can see that we are doing more work for less appreciation. Honestly, we prefer to be single and childless under these circumstances.

      1. You took a whole lot of words to reiterate what I just typed. Women don’t want marriage, children, monogamy or heterosexuality. All of your other euphemisms are just excuses to blame men. And we have ‘equity,’ why I my name in a draft lottery and yours isn’t? Funny that actual equality doesn’t exist when it comes down to it.

        1. The Military Selective Service Act was in 1948. Women had nothing to do with that. Actually, women still only comprise roughly 27% of congress in the US. Feminists actually want equality and not special treatment. It seems like you are blaming the powerless.

          1. Lol cope harder. This is why women were never allowed to vote. You literally cannot take any responsibility for even the slightest failure. The human female is less rational than a child.

      2. Let me translate your comment: Women want to be men but minus the responsibilities, and thanks to fememist bullsh*it they have abandoned their true societal roles as mothers and caregivers because they have been lied to be a garbage feminist idealism designed to topple western culture. Women bought it, hook line and sinker, as the usually always do, and now society is paying for it. Society needs a MAJOR course correction, and part of it is the expulsion of feminism, it is destroying humanity because it lies to women and convinces them they can be men and there is no difference between the 2 sexes/genders. It’s repulsive, and insane and untenable. Good men will forever want feminine traditional women, not bullheaded overbearing feminazis. This is why record numbers of American women will die alone, lonely, childless, and miserable in the next 30 years. And also why American men are going to Asia for wives in record numbers….Asian women understand it, embrace their femininity and are running circles around their porcine American feminist counterparts in terms of snagging good men and being happy in life.

        1. Dear sweet Ed, this is not 1950. It’s unfortunate that you consider women’s roles to primarily be as caregivers. Have you ever been a caregiver? It’s not fun. It’s dirty, monotonous, unappreciated, and underpaid. Oftentimes, it requires 24/7 dedication. It’s no wonder men have threatened women with physical harm for millennia if they failed to comply to their “natural duties.” Unfortunately for you, and men like you, strength in modern societies is now determined by grit, education, passion, and determination. I have unending sympathy for women in societies who are still oppressed and exploited. I know you will never understand this, but women are just people. We are capable, strong, intelligent, empathetic, resilient, kind, hard-working, and so much more!!

        2. I used to believe all of this manosphere nonsense myself, but it just isn’t true. Women simply don’t want children or monogamy. They weren’t ‘tricked.’ It’s just their default setting. You can see this with change in fertility rates the moment women gain ‘rights,’ which happen to oppress everybody else (unborn, children, men, elderly, strangers etc).

          Women see all of that as ‘oppressive’ as shown by Miss (andrist) Monica with or without feminism (Female National Socialism). ‘Traditionalism’ to women is like a straight jacket they will inexorably try and wrangle out of however and whenever they can. It’s why the first thing ‘women’s rights’ brings is the right to divorce and abort. Women simply do not want to be monogamous or heterosexual. They have much higher libidos than men, contrary to so-called conventional wisdom. They made a Faustian pact with a certain tribe to make all this happen. As awful as Monica is, she’s right that women are happier single/childless and men are unhappier. It’s not women who are dying of loneliness – it’s men. The stats (suicide, overdose, alcoholism etc) are supermajority (white) men for a reason. If it were any less skewed it would be a national emergency. Women simply don’t have an investment in society the way men do. They don’t care to leave a legacy. They are creatures of very high-time preference. That is why their ideology is libertinism.

  15. It is expensive to have children. Daycare in CA is $1200 for fulltime care for one child for Pre-school aged kids. After school care is also expensive. Parents have little to no support when trying to raise kids and work full time, which is now takes 2 incomes these days with cost of living. Is it any wonder the birth rate is going down?

  16. The United States is an exceptional place for both mothers and children. Our hospitals are among the best in the world and our welfare and support systems for the indigent are superb. The only problem is the perception that population must keep growing and growing for a nation to be successful. This is ridiculous. We are nearing 350 million people in the country. That is enough.

    1. I’m not a demographer but Japan is having immense issues with an aging population that is using social services and retirement benefits compared to a smaller population paying for them.

  17. For 70 years the moronic Tv watchers have been programmed the world is over populated and familys are bad so women instead of being responsible be whores. There is a reason the government is promoting mass immigration legal or illegal. We need lots of people to keep the government crime gangs Ponzi scheme rolling nalong.

  18. Birth rates drop when pregnancy is delayed until a woman’s older less fertile years. A woman who could easily get pregnant at 20 may not be able to at 30. Fear mongering about the future also discourages starting a family. When my children were in grammer school the story they were told is that we are all doomed due to over population and should stop having more than one child. To counter this we took a two week road trip around the US to show them how empty the world is outside cities. The lesson took and we have 7 grand children and so far 5 great grand children. Present parents need to find a way to combat the current climate hysteria being taught in schools. We aren’t doomed and future children can have a good life.

  19. Bottom line: the United States has become an incredibly hostile place for both mothers and children. If there is a desire to really fix the problem, getting the research professors out of their ivory towers and addressing the fact that the United States has the largest maternal mortality rate (and growing) in the developed world are good starting points.

    1. It’s only hostile because of feminism. Women are being brainwashed by liberal teachers and charlatans that somehow getting married and having children devalues them. It’s the exact opposite, to me a women who shuns children to try and be some kind of perverse career driven alpha is the real abomination…..

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