Heard on Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson

The U.S. Birthrate Is Dropping. Experts Weigh In on Why and What That Means for America’s Future.

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Demographer Alison Gemmill and New York Times journalist Sabrina Tavernise say a combination of positive and negative factors are contributing to the decline in births.

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The United States birthrate has continued to decline, according to new 2020 census data. The government revealed earlier this month that the national population is growing at the slowest rate in nearly a century, and more people are deciding to wait or forgo having children. Demographers are working to uncover why, and what this population decline will mean for the country’s future. 

If we removed [economic] barriers … and added more supports for people, maybe we would see larger families.” —Alison Gemmill, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health


Listen: Why are more Americans deciding not to have kids?


Guests 

Sabrina Tavernise is a national correspondent covering demographics and is the lead census writer for The New York Times. Her recent piece is titled “The U.S. Birthrate Has Dropped Again. The Pandemic May Be Accelerating the Decline.” She says the declining birth rate doesn’t have a singular cause. “The answer is not conclusive. I will say that. The answer is still under investigation … My understanding … is that what is happening right now is that lots of women in their early and mid- 20s are deciding to forgo having children.”

Tavernise says those deciding to have kids are waiting longer. ”When you look at the overall rates of age groups … the birth rates for [older] groups has actually been rising since 2008.” A result of this is that when women do decide to have kids, they usually end up having fewer kids overall. 

Tavernise says, historically, that women in the workforce were the most significant group deciding to wait longer to have children, but, “Now it seems … that this delay has really spread to all corners and all parts of the American population.” She says this delay is not necessarily a bad thing. ”We want women to have children when they want to have children, not just when it happens.” 

Alison Gemmill is a demographer and assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She says the declining birthrate is partly due to increased agency and access to birth control. ”People have more control over their reproductive lives.” Gemmill says in some respects, the decline in births can be positive. ”By and large, I think the drops in teen pregnancy are a good thing, and there’s also a drop in unplanned births,” she says. 

Gemmill says financial pressure is another large factor playing into Americans’ decisions around waiting to have children, or deciding not to have children at all. “Some of that has to do with issues of economic precarity … I think there’s this general air of uncertainty that clouds people’s decisions about whether to have children.” She says financial restraints have a large impact on these decisions. “If we removed [economic] barriers … and added more supports for people, maybe we would see larger families.”

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