U.S. Fertility Rate Falling, Census Data Shows

August 21, 2008 08:56 AM
by Rachel Balik
A new Census Bureau report on female fertility indicates that fewer women are having children, and the women that do have children have fewer of them.

Pregnancy Rate of American Women is Dropping

The number of American women between the ages of 40–44 who have no children is twice as large as it was 30 years ago, a U.S. Census report reveals. The report found that 20 percent of women in that age group are childless. Jane Lawler Dye, the researcher who conducted the study, says that women are no longer expected to have children during a particular early period in their lives, and thus, many of them are choosing other paths. While 18 percent of women whose education ended after high school are childless, that figure increases to 27 percent for women with advanced degrees. Suzanne Bianchi, chairwoman of the sociology department at the University of Maryland, said, “Clearly women have competing alternatives for the use of their time, with the labor market and employment being one, and delayed marriage, which has been another trend.”

In places where women are still highly encouraged to start families at a young age, the trends are different. For example, in Utah, which had the highest birthrate of any of the states, the numbers diverged substantially from the average. According to statistics published in the Salt Lake Tribune, the national birthrate is 54.9 per 1000 women, while the birthrate in Utah is 83.2. In addition, the rate of women who have never been married is 28.4 per 1000 nationally, but only 14.3 in Utah. A demographer at the University of Utah explained that, “Utahns traditionally marry young and start their families early.” She added, “Women in Utah have more kids period. That's been the case for many generations."

The current report is the first of its kind to allow for comparisons by state. The report, called Fertility of American Women: 2006, polled 76 million women ages 15 to 50. The report suggests that the data be used to assist state agencies. 

Related Topic: Changing demographics

The report found that the birthrate was higher for some demographics. For example, Hispanic women still have an average of 2.3 children by the time they reach their forties. The number is higher than the national average, which has dropped from 3.1 to 1.9 over the past 30 years. The shift in birthrate may have implications for the population at large. The census bureau also recently issued a report predicting that by 2042, minorities will compose the majority of the United States population.

Opinion & Analysis: Choosing not to have children

Across the blogosphere, writers are voicing their concern about the apparent drop in interest in having children. A blogger for the Annotated News points out that a living organism is defined as “something that has movement, consumes resources AND reproduces. If it doesn’t have all of these, it can't be defined as ‘living’.” He takes issue with Dye’s implication that having children is just one more lifestyle choice; if too many women make this choice, “Human Life will cease to exist.”

But the Family Life editor at the Syracuse Post-Standard lauded the study’s affirmation of choices available to women. She wrote, “To me, it's great for women who don't want kids to have the freedom not to have them. I adore my children and believe every child should be wanted and loved.”

Reference: Fertility of American Women: 2006


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