The U.S. birthrate among women in their teens and 20s has hit its lowest level in 32 years, marking the fourth consecutive year of fewer babies being born.
Demographers and economists point to young people postponing marriage and starting families later in life, as well as lingering effects of the Great Recession, for the birthrate decline.
There were less than 3.8 million births last year, a 2% drop from 2017, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Wednesday.
The provisional report’s findings, compiled from more than 99% of U.S. birth records, also revealed a record low fertility rate of 59 births per 1,000 for women aged 15 to 44 years.
William Frey, a demographer for the Brookings Institution, said a variety of factors contribute to the fertility decline, including a lagging effect from the 2008-2009 recession, the general aging of the country’s population, and millennials postponing marriage and starting families later in order to focus on their education and careers.
The skewed ages in the population and workforce, created by the fertility decline, will mostly affect retirees, said James Albrecht, an economics professor at Georgetown University.
“The main effect of a declining birthrate will be the eventual decline in the number of prime-age workers,” Mr. Albrecht said. “The transfer system in the U.S., and in other developed countries, is one in which the taxes paid by prime-age workers subsidize older individuals, so the effect will be felt mainly among retirees.”
To counter the possible economic effects of lower birthrates, Mr. Frey said there need to be resources to make the smaller labor force more productive such as more equal educational opportunities for young people.
Mr. Frey said he thinks the nation will see a continual decline in fertility rates for a bit before steadily rising again as more millennials grow older and start having kids. But he thinks fertility rates will not again reach the rates they were at before the 2008 housing market crash.
Immigrants can offset the fertility decline, and stricter immigration policies might have shorter-term effects on the population but not longer term, Mr. Frey noted. He added the fertility rates for the U.S. are not as bad as the rates of other industrialized countries such as Japan and Italy.
While Mr. Albrecht expressed surprise at the consistent drop in birthrates, he said he does not expect the rate to decline much further and anticipates some “catch up.”
“Unless, the birthrate declines a lot more, I don’t think we should be particularly worried,” he said.
The CDC report also found the number of births for teenage mothers ages 15 to 19 was 179,607, an 8% drop from 2017 and a 60% drop from 2007.
The birthrate for women in their early 20s fell 5% from 2017 to 2018.
While birthrates were down for nearly all age groups of women under 35, rates were up among women in their late 30s and early 40s.
There were close to 4.25 million births in 2007.