The United States’ fertility levels have been below replacement level — the level at which a given generation can exactly replace itself, usually 2,100 births per 1,000 women — since 1971. Immigration has has kept population statistics on the level.
Recently the National Center for Health Statistics reported that U.S. fertility had fallen to a record low — for the second straight year. The fertility rate declined to 60.2 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age, down 3 percent from 2016. The number of births in the United States fell 2 percent to 3.85 million, the lowest in 30 years. In fact, the only group for whom birthrates have risen this year is women over 40. This slump began during the 2008 recession. Now the recession has ended but the baby numbers haven’t picked back up. Millennials are not just not buying houses and not setting up their 401(k)s, but many of them are postponing other parts of their lives, too, including childbirth.
Some people put this trend down to too much Netflix and preoccupation with cellphones and social media. Others to nervousness about financial stability, the modern lack of job security, parental benefits and profamily policies in most U.S. workplaces. Still others suspect that young people are actually enjoying themselves with expensive dinners out, pricey gym subscriptions, fancy holidays and nice clothes (and why not?) The main reason, however, may lie in the growing empowerment of women, who now have more choices than ever before and have been putting off childbirth to pursue careers.
Does this matter? One can argue that the Earth is already over-populated and that we are wrecking the environment of the one planet we have. Turmoil, mass migration and warfare are all on the cards with climate change and world population heading ever upwards. But those who disagree, and fear dropping population, point to Japan, which has the world’s lowest birthrate and has lost 1 million people over the past five years. It faces social decline, a lack of meaning, and an increase in loneliness.
If I had to choose I would prefer the Japanese-style population decline, in a peaceful and law-abiding mode, to the winner-take-all, capitalist preoccupation with a never-ending growth that requires a constantly increasing population and leads to boom-and-bust economics and obscene wealth and poverty.
(based on an article by Christine Emba, Washington Post)