May 20, 2018—A report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on May 17 declared that the U.S. birthrate fell 2 percent between 2016 and 2017, bringing the rate to the lowest level in 30 years. Fertility rates also fell to a near record low of 1.76. The only year with a lower recorded rate was 1976.
The birthrate figure was based on a review of more than 99% of the birth certificates in the nation. The sharpest drop was in the rate for non-white women. The only age bracket which saw an increase in the birth rate was 40-44. Another alarming statistic was the continued rise in the number of babies born with low birth weights, a sign of inadequate health and health care for expectant mothers.
A country’s birthrate has generally been seen as a measure of cultural optimism within a population, as couples take into consideration their ability to support a family before starting one. This idea was demonstrated negatively with the Great Depression, when the U.S. fertility rate collapsed 20% between 1928 and 1935.
In this respect the declining fertility and birth rates are the flip side of the rising rates of “deaths of despair” and decrease in life expectancy among the U.S. population. The accompanying graph by the World Bank shows that the precipitous decline began much in the 1960s, and is consistent with the beginning of the switch to a post-industrial economy. The implications for the future, as I pointed out in a December article, are chilling.
Until the recent period the United States has been seen as the exception to other major industrialized countries, such as Japan, Germany, and Italy, where birth rates have fallen far below “replacement level” of the population—and thus have put these nations on the road to overall population decline. The problems faced by nations with such aging populations are obvious, beginning with the decline in the sector of productive workers.
To reverse such pessimism will require radical concrete measures to build a future worth having a family for—starting with freeing the nation’s financial system from Wall Street predators, and establishing a national credit institution to pour billions into an infrastructure-building program. Until then, one can only expect the figures, and the reality, to get worse.