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May 7, 2021

The Worrisome Drop in Fertility

It’s been a trend for years, but 2020 exacerbated a big problem.

With most of America shut indoors with nothing to do for the past year, one might think the birthrate would have skyrocketed. But it’s just the opposite. Whatever Americans might have done with their time since COVID-19 arrived from China, procreating wasn’t one of them.

On one hand, it’s understandable why some parents might want to put off having children. With all the social turmoil on our streets, coronavirus lockdowns, and uncertain economic conditions, it might be a good time to wait.

On the other hand, birthrates in the U.S. dropped last year to the lowest point in more than a century (and raw numbers were the lowest since 1979), signifying some important and troubling trends in our culture.

According to a Fox News report, “The U.S. once was among only a few developed countries with a fertility rate that ensured each generation had enough children to replace it. About a dozen years ago, the estimated rate was 2.1 kids per U.S. woman. But it’s been sliding, and last year dropped to about 1.6, the lowest rate on record.”

On the surface, some experts blame the coronavirus, but the downward trend was already occurring.

Janet Adamy of the Wall Street Journal writes, “Demographers say the data suggests that more fundamental social and economic shifts are driving down fertility. Births peaked in 2007 before plunging during the recession that began that year. Although fertility usually rebounds alongside an improving economy, U.S. births fell in all but one year as the economy grew from 2009 until early 2020.”

Adamy adds, “Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, now account for the majority of women having children. In seeking to explain their lower fertility rates, researchers have pointed to the fact that they are marrying later in life, getting higher levels of education and are less financially secure than previous generations when they were the same age.”

Waiting to have kids doesn’t come without challenges, including some evidence indicating physical and mental health risks for mothers who wait until their 30s or 40s to become pregnant.

But there’s more to this trend than fears of bringing a baby into a pandemic or mothers putting off children to earn a college degree and establish a career.

Just last year, we identified a range of factors including women being pushed to have careers instead of children, men preferring a carefree lifestyle free of commitment, a culture obsessed with entertainment, the rejection of religion, and Hollywood’s penchant for mocking traditional families.

The media celebrate couples for having the “courage” to remain child-free, claiming they’re somehow shedding the shackles of a family-centered culture. Books with titles such as Childless by Choice and Regretting Motherhood have contributed to a mindset increasingly viewing the childless life in a positive light.

As a societal trend instead of the individual choice of a relative few, this will continue to have widespread, negative impacts on our society. For example, Social Security and Medicare will be harder to prop up with fewer workers paying into the system. Replacing an aging workforce will lead to more calls for increased immigration, leading to social and cultural instability. And America will be less competitive across a range of industries and fields when millions of unskilled workers are brought in to replace those heading into retirement.

But perhaps there are reasons to have children that cannot be quantified in a study. What could be more important than giving life to another human being born out of the love and commitment of two parents focusing on something other than themselves?

Sure, raising a child is hard work, but it imparts a level of compassion, forgiveness, selflessness, and joy that cannot be experienced in any other way. And on some level, a nation that values marriage and children might just be one that’s better equipped to deal with the challenges of the future.

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