The Center for Disease Control just reported that fertility rates are the lowest in the history of the CDC. Birth rate measures the number of children born compared to the entire population. Fertility rate measures the number of children born to women of childbearing age, generally considered 15-44. Fertility rate is a much more accurate indicator of births than birth rate. Among women ages 15-44 there are 5.9 children born per on hundred women. Rounding up that means there are six babies born for every 100 women between the ages of 15-44. This is the lowest fertility rate since the CDC began recording in 1909. The fertility rates among young women continues to decline, while the rates for women 30-44 went up. The fertility rate has dropped over 10 percent in the last decade. The US is already below replacement rate, which is a little above 2 babies born per woman. In 2010 the U.S. was at 1.9 children born per woman.
If you look at the first chart in this article you will see a general drop in fertility rates since 1940. Here are some numbers from the chart:
1957: 12.2 babies born per 100 women ages 15-44.
1990: 7.01-The highest fertility rate since 1973.
2015: 1st Quarter: 5.98/100
1964-1974: Fertility rate drops from 10.47 to 6.78
Another chart from the CDC shows that the fertility rate between 1946 and 1964 never dropped below 10.2.
Is the Economy to Blame?
Lower fertility rates are usually blamed on economics. For example, in the Great Depression fertility rates dropped from 10.6/100 women in 1925 to 7.58/100 in 1936, which was the lowest it reached until 1972. It is worth noting that the lowest fertility rate during the Great Depression was higher than any fertility rate we have had since 1973. However, if you look closer you will see that fertility rates, at least since the sixties, have dropped or been stagnate during times of economic growth. For example, from 1980 to 1990 the fertility rate only minimally grew 6.84 to 7.09 , despite the late 80’s being a time of economic growth. It generally thought that there was a recession around 1992 and then another around 2002 with economic growth between those two points. Yet the fertility rate from 1992 to 2002 went down from 6.84/100 in 1992 to 6.48/100 in 2002. In other words during two periods of economic growth since WWII the fertility rate did not go up. While the economy might have played a role in the dropping fertility rates pre-WWII it is hard to see how it has been a significant factor since WWII.
What is to Blame?
What is to blame for the downward trend in fertility rates since the late 1950’s? We have been around 6-7 babies per 100 women of child bearing since 1972, a 5-6 baby drop since the 1950s. Since 2007 there has been a steady drop from 6.9 in 2007 to 5.9 in the first quarter of 2015. There are numerous reasons for this drop. Let me list a few.
- Most obviously is the use of birth control and abortion. With the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973 and the increased use of birth control less children percentage wise are being born when compared to the past. Prior to 1973 the fertility rate since 1925 had never dropped below 7. Since 1973 fertility rate has only reached 7 once time in 1990. In the 47 year span from 1925-1972 there were 9 years were the fertility rate dropped below 8 (1933-40, 1972). Two of those years were 7.9 (1938, 1940). By comparison in the 43 years since 1973 we have only reached 7 one time, 1990.
- Women choosing careers over children has also played a huge role. The third chart in this article shows the drop in fertility by age. You will see that the fertility rate in women from ages 15-29 has been generally declining since 1975. However, the 30+ age bracket has been going up. It would seem this is related, at least in part, to women putting off bearing children until they are established in their careers. They go to college (18-22), maybe get a Master’s (22-25ish), get established in their career and then all of the sudden they are 30 or older before they are having children. They still have children, but the number of children goes down because the number of child bearing years are less. This could also, at least among conservatives who put off sex until marriage, be related to marrying later in life. This chart shows that the number of married working women has increased from 19% in 1950 to 44% in 2012. This number does not include single moms, most of whom work. Single moms make up 19% of households today. Thus the two numbers combined mean that over 60% of women married and/or with children work. I understand there is a lot of variety here nor am I condemning women working in every circumstance. But the point still stands. There has been a great shift from the home to the work place for women since 1950, which contributes to having less children.
- The general desire, especially among men, for pleasure without responsibility. Men believe that they should be able to have sex without the “burden” of children or the mess that they bring. This sinful desire has been made worse by pornography, birth control, and abortion. This extends not just to sex, but also to financial pleasures. Many men and women have refused to have children or have had fewer children because it is easier financially and in many other ways.
- The rising divorce rate and lower rate of marriage. Statistics can be tricky, but it would appear that around 1960 there were 9.2 divorces per 1000 marriages and by the 80’s the rate had risen to over 20 and has now leveled out around 16. By contrast the number of married households has dropped from 70% to 50% since the 1960’s. Less marriages and more divorces lead to less children.
- Finally, the church has been silent or has compromised in many areas of sexual ethics, including fruitfulness. This compromise began before WWII, but continues with a vengeance to this day where women in many churches are encouraged to abandon the home and the bearing of children to go “get a job.” A good example of this is the managing editor of Christianity Today making a case, not just that it is permissible for women to work, but it is actually good that they do so and to stay at home may be in direct violation of what God has called them to do. This along with acceptance of divorce, sodomy, fornication, adultery, and the rejection of male only pastors and church leaders and fundamental distinctions between men and women has left the church impotent to address the decline of fruitfulness in our culture. Churches are empty because we having less children and because we have no voice that is distinct from the world.
No doubt numerous reasons have contributed to the drop in fertility rates since the late 1950s. I also do not wish a return to 1950. It had faults just as our age does. But it would be foolish to not say that a fundamental shift towards children, women, and child bearing occurred in the post WWII years. As a Christian who believes children are a blessing from the Lord, as a human who delights in other people, including little ones, and as a citizen who knows that if we want a good future we cannot send ourselves, I find the downward trend in fertility rates disturbing. The shift from 1950 to 2016 when it comes to having and raising children has not been a good one. The fact that we are having less than 2 children per family shows that we are a narcissistic people that hate the past, care little for the future, and are primarily concerned about pleasuring ourselves in the present. To be saved we must first die. And in our society, one of the ways to do this is by having a lot of children.