Mind and Body
US Fertility Rates Are Declining, but Not in South Dakota and Utah
Populations of humans around the world are generally on the rise, but the United States is an exception. The US birth rate is at a historic low, and on Thursday, the CDC reported that the fertility rate has plunged in tandem with it. As it stands, there are only two states in the country where there are enough babies being born to keep the population steady.
"“There are likely a number of factors behind the drop, including the decline in the birth rates to women under 30 years of age over that last 10 years, particularly the decline in birth rates for teens."
Birth rate refers to the number of live births per thousand of population, and total fertility rate (TFR) is the number of babies that 1,000 women can be expected to have over the course of her reproductive lifetime. Both are dropping in the US, according to the new report. A previous study showed that in 2017, there were 3.86 million babies born in the United States — the lowest since 1987, bringing the birth rate down two percent from its 2016 value. Now, the CDC shows that 2017 also saw one of the sharpest declines in TFR across the country in recent years.
The new report reveals that the TFR for the whole country is 1,765.5 births per 1,000 women for all races and ethnicities. That’s 16 percent below the rate of replacement — which is 2,100 — for the country as a whole.
Only two states can confidently say the number of babies born is enough to replace the number of people who died off: Utah and South Dakota, which had TFR rates above the rate of replacement. South Dakota had the highest TFR in the country (2,227.5) and Utah was a close second at (2,120.5) for women of all races and origins. For comparison, Washington, D.C. had the lowest TFR in the country, at 1,421.0 — that’s a 57 percent lower fertility rate than South Dakota.
Please, Don’t Freak Out
The report breaks down TFR rates by race and ethnicity, which is proving to be a controversial decision. In bullet points at the end of the document, the authors indicate that TFRs for white women are below the rate of replacement in every state, whereas TFRs for women of Hispanic origin are above replacement in 29 states, and TFRs for black women are above replacement in 12 states. The juxtaposition of these statistics is, unsurprisingly, garnering a lot of negative attention on Twitter.
But drawing conclusions from these statistics is beside the point of this report. Looking into the reasons that TFR has declined reveals that a lot of them are actually the result of positive changes in society — particularly for teenage girls. Specifically, Brady Hamilton, Ph.D., a statistician at the CDC’s National Center For Health Statistics, points to the sharp decline in teen birth rates.
“There are likely a number of factors behind the drop, including the decline in the birth rates to women under 30 years of age over that last 10 years, particularly the decline in birth rates for teens,” Hamilton tells Inverse.
A December report released by the CDC showed that the birth rate for teenage girls in the US was down seven percent in 2017 — another record low, as the teen birth rate has plummeted nearly 55 percent since 2007. Speaking to NBC, John Rowe, Ph.D., a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, indicated that these trends are indicative of more opportunities for women in society. The decrease in teen birth rate, he added, is particularly important and noteworthy.
“We’ve been seeing, year after year, a precipitous drop in the number of births to teenage girls,” he told NBC. “That’s good news. Not only are these children not having children, but they’re also getting a chance to finish high school. And that makes a huge difference to their lives.”
On the whole, it’s easy to read a report like this and see claims of “low” fertility rates as alarming. Instead, they’re part of larger cultural and demographic trends, many of which are actually improving lives.