Women are having fewer children than at any time on record. What are the implications?
The U.S.’s total fertility rate, or the number of babies each woman is expected to have during her lifetime, reached a record low of 1.705 births per woman (that’s 1 point 705!)in 2019, the latest year for which data is available. That year the number of babies born in the U.S. was 3.74 million — a 35-year low. The dramatic drop in births mirrors a worldwide trend. Britain, Canada, France, and Australia all had fertility rates below 1.9 in 2018 — below the “replacement rate” of 2.1 needed to sustain their populations. Some experts are calling this phenomenon “a demographic time bomb.”
In coming years, lower fertility rates could have profound economic consequences, with employers lacking sufficient workers to grow the economy. And with fewer young workers paying into Social Security and Medicare, these safety-net programs will be in trouble. In the early 1980s, the U.S. had about five workers providing the taxes to support each retired beneficiary. By 2019, the Social Security Administration says, that ratio had declined to 2.8 workers per retiree, and by 2035, it may drop to 2.2 workers per beneficiary.
Tomorrow: What is being done about the trend