Birth rate in US hits record low, led by decrease in births to immigrant women

Birth rates in the US fell to a record low in 2011, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center. Births to immigrant women have led the plunge.

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Birth rates in the US hit an all-time low in 2011.

This just in from the Pew Research Center:  The  US birth rate – the number of births per 1,000 women – fell last year to a record low, led by a significant decrease in the number of children born to immigrant women.

Based on preliminary data, Pew says, the country’s birth rate in 2011 was 63.2 per 1,000  women – about half the rate of the Baby Boom years, when, in 1957, say, there were 122.7 babies per 1,000 women. (Only a decent percentage of whom were named Donna, Susan or Linda.) That’s the lowest since at least 1920, when the government began keeping reliable birth rate statistics.

In real numbers, these figures mean that 3.95 million little bundles of joy born last year. (Which really, when you stop to think about it, is sort of overwhelming. One has managed to deconstruct our household.)

Anyhow, while immigrant women still accounted for a disproportionate share of births (17 percent of women ages 14 to 44 in the US are foreign-born, while 23 percent of all births are to foreign-born moms), the birth rate for that population has dipped in recent  years.  Pew found that after a decade and a half of increase, the birth rate for immigrant women dropped 14 percent between 2007 and 2011; the birth rate for Mexican women fell by 23 percent.

Researchers say this drop in immigrant birth rate is the result of behavior change rather than a shift in population composition. And while they didn’t investigate in this study the particular reasons for this apparent behavioral disinclination to procreate, previous Pew reports have tied fertility decline to economic stress.  (Ah, 2007 to 2011. You can connect the dots.) 

All of this comes, it’s important to mention, in the context of a lot of speculation – political, social, you name it – about the future demographic makeup of the US. 

Pew has projected that immigrants who have arrived here since 2005, and their descendants, will account for 82 percent of US population growth by 2050. Earlier this year there was a lot of press about US Census Bureau numbers showing that in 2011, for the first time, white babies were no longer the majority. (Minority babies made up 50.4 percent of the country’s births, although there were still more white babies born than any other individual group.)

The US still does not face the same population imbalance problem as, say, Japan, where low fertility rates are a national concern. (The Japanese government recently estimated that its country’s population would shrink by 30 percent by 2060.) But policies such as social security, where younger workers pay for the elderly, are dependent on population growth – or at least stability. 

Even during the recent presidential campaign, pundits speculating about the future of the Republican party turned to demographic patterns, and the unequal birth rate between whites and Hispanics, as proof that the GOP needs to adjust its policies to stay relevant.

Some other tidbits from the Pew report:

Teen moms were more likely to be US-born women than immigrant women. (Eleven percent of US moms were in their teens in 2010, compared with 5 percent of foreign-born mothers.)

The majority of births to US-born women in 2010 (66 percent) were to white mothers. The majority of births to foreign-born women were to Hispanic moms.

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