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Why Are Fertility Rates in the United States Dropping?

September 07, 2016
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The United States is experiencing its lowest fertility rate on record, with a birth rate of 59.8 babies per 1,000 women ages 15-44. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this year’s numbers add up to only half the births recorded during the 1950s baby boom. The age of expectant mothers is also rising; the average American woman in 2016 delivers her first child at age 26.3 – a solid five-year bump from the 1970s. So why are women delaying pregnancy and children? Turns out, the average American woman does want children – they just can’t afford it. In a 2014 Pew Research Center study, nearly half the women polled reported having fewer children than their ideal number. This gap between ideal and real family size may be due to women pushing back pregnancies until they are financially stable. Nan Astone, co-author of Urban Institute’s “Millennial Childbearing and the Recession” study, agrees. “Young women who aren’t worried about the biological clock [are saying], ‘Things are tough right now. Let me put this off because I can,” Astone said. The longer it takes to reach financial stability, the less time women have to be pregnant. Delaying pregnancy also increases the risk of “age-related infertility.” While some may point to women’s careers as the motivator behind fewer births in the United States, money could be the primary issue. During America’s recession in the late 2000s, birth rates of women in their twenties dropped by 15 percent. Twenty-something women fertility rates have experienced two other significant dips on American record – once during the Great Depression and the other during the 1970s recession. “We have to see the declining fertility as being economic,” Astone added, “The coincidence of decline and recession is hard to ignore.” The cost of child-care and a lack of paid maternity leave may also be hindering 2016 birth rates. For a worker earning minimum wage, child-care costs would take at least 30 percent of their yearly paycheck in all 50 states, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). That price tag is higher than a year at a public university in over two-thirds of states. The authors of this study also suggest this data may not portray the full story. “Half of families actually earn less than the median, suggesting that far more families cannot afford child care than the data imply,” EPI researchers wrote. Additionally, the United States does not require companies to have paid maternity leave. In fact, America ranks dead last worldwide on paid parental leave. Families with fewer financial resources cannot afford to take time off for a child, and find themselves trapped in tight work schedules. With the upcoming 2016 election, both presidential candidates are addressing the issue of parental leave, but not its relationship to national fertility rates. Donald Trump is proposing tax deductions on child-care expenses, and Hillary Clinton wants the government to insure paid family leave of up to 12 weeks. It is difficult to conclude that paid leave will equate to higher birth rates, but finances are proving to be a roadblock in family planning.
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