Changing Birthrates in the U.S.

After our class conversation about the demographic transition and the attempt to control population growth in Iran, I came across an interesting article in The New York Times that applied the same concepts to the United States: “U.S. Birthrate Declines for Sixth Consecutive Year; Economy Could Be Factor.” (  This article was reporting how the number of women in the U.S. who gave birth dropped in 2013, down slightly from 2012 but down 9% below the high in 2007.  It quoted several demographers that related the drop in American fertility rate to the state of the economy.

An economic relationship with the number of children born each year is well explained with the concept of the demographic transition:  as a country’s economy develops, women have fewer children.  This is generally due to the fact that as a country becomes more developed, children’s health outcomes improve, and the risk of a child dying becomes reduced.  Additionally, more developed countries tend to have fewer agriculturally based economies and more professional jobs, so it becomes less economically sensible to have numerous children for economic purposes like working in a farm, and more sensible to have fewer children with the high costs of education.

This article introduces a more complex idea on the idea of the demographic transition: what happens to birthrates when developed countries have economic ups and downs?  William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution argues “On just about every demographic indicator involving young adults, whether it’s marriage, buying a home or delaying childbearing, it’s all been on hold since the beginning of the recession.  I think it’ll come back up, and each time new numbers are coming out, I think maybe this will be the moment.”  However, what I found to be one of the most interesting points of the article is how much later in life women are having children.  While the teenage birthrate has dropped substantially, and the birthrate for women in their 20s has been declining as well, births to older women are on the rise.  The report found a 14% increase in births to women ages 45-49.  So it is certainly possible that as countries develop, the birthrate not only drops, but that women will wait longer to have children as well.

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