We are replacing ourselves

Confounding the anti-natalists we talked about recently, the fertility rate in the USA has reached 2.1 children per woman, which means that Americans are, at long last, replacing themselves.

This is good news, as other advanced industrial nations are struggling with low fertility rates that will have major bad economic consequences. Most of those countries are giving money to women who have babies and other benefits. The USA is doing nothing like that, but the higher fertility rate is taking place in all age groups and across all demographics. This is the first time the fertility rate has reached replacement level since the 1970s and the advent of birth control and legalized abortion. Read this article from USA Today. Excerpts:

The fertility rate among Americans has climbed to its highest level since 1971, setting the country apart from most industrialized nations that are struggling with low birthrates and aging populations.

The fertility rate hit 2.1 in 2006, according to preliminary estimates released by the National Center for Health Statistics. It’s a milestone: the first time since shortly after the baby boom ended that the nation has reached the rate of births needed for a generation to replace itself, an average 2.1 per woman.

“What matters is that the U.S. is probably one of very few industrialized countries that have a fertility rate close to or at replacement level,” says José Antonio Ortega, head of the fertility section at the United Nations’ Population Division.

A high fertility rate is important to industrialized nations. When birthrates are low, there are fewer people to fill jobs and support the elderly.

Fertility in the USA went up in every age group from 2005 to 2006, the biggest jump coming among those 20 to 24 years old. The U.S. population topped 300 million last year, and the Census Bureau projects growth to 400 million by around 2040.

Developed countries in Europe and Asia have launched several government initiatives to encourage more births, from financial bonuses and extended family leaves to subsidized child care.

The wide availability of birth control options and more career opportunities for women have caused fertility rates to hit low levels in Japan, South Korea, Italy, Germany and Russia. France, renowned for its family friendly policies, remains the exception with a fertility rate of 2.

“What is paradoxical is that the U.S. doesn’t have those (family friendly) policies and it has higher fertility,” Ortega says.

Fertility experts say that economic prosperity, immigration and better job security for working mothers contribute to more births.

“We do know that birthrates ticked up quite a bit among the most affluent,” says Stephanie Coontz, director of research and public education at the Council on Contemporary Families. “Kids are luxury goods, and some of this uptick may be stay-at-home moms.”

It also has become easier for women to negotiate leaves from work to stay home with their children. “Women now feel much more entitled and much more confident, especially as they’re getting more education,” Coontz says.

U.S. fertility hit its low of 1.7 in 1976 after the introduction of the birth control pill in the 1960s. Another factor: the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that a woman has a constitutional right to an abortion.

“It’s not so much that abortion lowered the birthrate but abortion, coming on top of the birth control pill, really made it much more clear to women — and to men — that childbearing was a choice,” Coontz says.

You will notice that some people think of a big population as a liability (how will we feed so many? how will we get them jobs? what will they do to the environment?). Others see a nation’s population as its most important economic resource. Explain.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • FW

    China, russia, and japans populations are aging. The usa´s population is booming (with the aid of undocumented and other immigrants… point to be made here??). Europe is also now growing again with immigrants and eastern europes addition.

    India and latin american have booming populations.

    africa is dying from war and disease.

    I predict from this that:

    china , russia an japan will enter into a state of decline.

    India will grow economically but hit a wall.

    Latin america (to my grief) and africa will languish.

    Europe and the usa will both coast on past glory (what was the basis for that??) and be merely reactive to one “crisis” after another.

    I don´t see a real correlation between population growth or stagnation and economic growth and stagnation except in the negative sense.

    Interesting to me that I see this to be so.

  • FW

    China, russia, and japans populations are aging. The usa´s population is booming (with the aid of undocumented and other immigrants… point to be made here??). Europe is also now growing again with immigrants and eastern europes addition.

    India and latin american have booming populations.

    africa is dying from war and disease.

    I predict from this that:

    china , russia an japan will enter into a state of decline.

    India will grow economically but hit a wall.

    Latin america (to my grief) and africa will languish.

    Europe and the usa will both coast on past glory (what was the basis for that??) and be merely reactive to one “crisis” after another.

    I don´t see a real correlation between population growth or stagnation and economic growth and stagnation except in the negative sense.

    Interesting to me that I see this to be so.

  • FW

    “Others see a nation’s population as its most important economic resource.”

    the fastest growing resouce here for america is in its immigrants. documented and undocumented.

    so another question is then posed here: How do american attitudes fit into all this?

  • FW

    “Others see a nation’s population as its most important economic resource.”

    the fastest growing resouce here for america is in its immigrants. documented and undocumented.

    so another question is then posed here: How do american attitudes fit into all this?

  • Pr. Conner

    Dr. Veith asks (knowingly) an incredibly complex question (which as the blog host, he has the distinct privilege of doing, while peons like me are assigned the task of answering).

    This question is so complex because its answer not only affects national policies, but it touches every potential reproducer on the planet (which is most of us).

    Do big populations benefit or harm national economics? Depends who you ask, but the fact that some nations are offering incentives for mothers to stay home / have more babies seems telling.

    Some claim big populations harm the environment / make life more difficult for everyone. Perhaps, but I wonder if much of the suffering that is often attributed to “overpopulation” is really a matter of corrupt governments.

    I suppose we could debate this till Jesus returns, but perhaps our time would be better spent searching our own hearts and the purposes for which God created us.

    I don’t want to get long winded because no one likes breathing another person’s hot air, but I’m very concerned about the attitudes of American Christians when it comes to children.

    The article referenced contraception/abortion as allowing children to be a matter of choice. I’m wondering, is anyone else disturbed by this? Why do so many Christians vigorously oppose the abortion choice and so eagerly embrace the contraception choice?

    The Bible calls children a blessing. Why have we relegated them to choice? How many other blessings from God do we seek to limit? Are children simply a matter of economics? (I know Dr. Veith in no way was suggesting this, but it’s far too easy to let the discussion of population become a discussion about money instead of individual families.)

    I suppose that’s enough hot air for now.

  • Pr. Conner

    Dr. Veith asks (knowingly) an incredibly complex question (which as the blog host, he has the distinct privilege of doing, while peons like me are assigned the task of answering).

    This question is so complex because its answer not only affects national policies, but it touches every potential reproducer on the planet (which is most of us).

    Do big populations benefit or harm national economics? Depends who you ask, but the fact that some nations are offering incentives for mothers to stay home / have more babies seems telling.

    Some claim big populations harm the environment / make life more difficult for everyone. Perhaps, but I wonder if much of the suffering that is often attributed to “overpopulation” is really a matter of corrupt governments.

    I suppose we could debate this till Jesus returns, but perhaps our time would be better spent searching our own hearts and the purposes for which God created us.

    I don’t want to get long winded because no one likes breathing another person’s hot air, but I’m very concerned about the attitudes of American Christians when it comes to children.

    The article referenced contraception/abortion as allowing children to be a matter of choice. I’m wondering, is anyone else disturbed by this? Why do so many Christians vigorously oppose the abortion choice and so eagerly embrace the contraception choice?

    The Bible calls children a blessing. Why have we relegated them to choice? How many other blessings from God do we seek to limit? Are children simply a matter of economics? (I know Dr. Veith in no way was suggesting this, but it’s far too easy to let the discussion of population become a discussion about money instead of individual families.)

    I suppose that’s enough hot air for now.

  • S Bauer

    Considering how much of this increased fertility is happening outside of marriages and without fathers would be an important factor in determining whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

  • S Bauer

    Considering how much of this increased fertility is happening outside of marriages and without fathers would be an important factor in determining whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.

  • Joe

    The failure to reproduce at a minimum of replacement means the end of a culture. Immigration becomes the major factor in increased population and the identity of a nation drastically changes. Historically, this usually proceeds the fall of a great nation/empire. There is no way to prove that this is a direct cause but the correlative evidence is pretty stark.

  • Joe

    The failure to reproduce at a minimum of replacement means the end of a culture. Immigration becomes the major factor in increased population and the identity of a nation drastically changes. Historically, this usually proceeds the fall of a great nation/empire. There is no way to prove that this is a direct cause but the correlative evidence is pretty stark.

  • FW

    ” Immigration becomes the major factor in increased population and the identity of a nation drastically changes. ”

    Imigration has historically always been the largest factor in population growth in the usa. so how does this overlay with what you are saying Joe?

  • FW

    ” Immigration becomes the major factor in increased population and the identity of a nation drastically changes. ”

    Imigration has historically always been the largest factor in population growth in the usa. so how does this overlay with what you are saying Joe?

  • kerner

    I wish I knew more about sociology, but I think that our growing population is, on balance, a good thing. We can read a lot today about how India and China are becoming these economic powerhouses because they have these huge populations and they are participating in the global economy. How will we continue to compete with them if our population shrinks down to nothing? How will we stand up aginst them militarilly if they are so huge that they are able to get other countries to ally with them against us? I know there are problems associated with growth, but I think that a growing economy/culture/population will also be vibrant and strong.

    As for the effect of immigration, our culture is based on ideals, not nationality. To some extent all immigrant groups to the United States have embraced its ideals, because they came here to participate in the culture those ideals produced. This is why I am not very concerned about immigrants changing the culture. Immigrants to the United States all know that it is much better to be an American than to be anything else. It is the immigrants who change, much more than the culture, because of this. I know this is usually not the case in other countries, but that is because their culture IS based on nationality. An immigrant can embrace the ideals of the United States. But, say, a Turkish immigrant to Germany can’t turn himself into a German.

    I know some of you worry about the perceived decline of Christianity in American culture, but I think some part of our culture encourages faith even as it encourages the “pursuit of happiness”. This is the most religious culture in the world. A lot of Americans practice the WRONG religion, but that’s a problem for Christians to solve through evangelism.

  • kerner

    I wish I knew more about sociology, but I think that our growing population is, on balance, a good thing. We can read a lot today about how India and China are becoming these economic powerhouses because they have these huge populations and they are participating in the global economy. How will we continue to compete with them if our population shrinks down to nothing? How will we stand up aginst them militarilly if they are so huge that they are able to get other countries to ally with them against us? I know there are problems associated with growth, but I think that a growing economy/culture/population will also be vibrant and strong.

    As for the effect of immigration, our culture is based on ideals, not nationality. To some extent all immigrant groups to the United States have embraced its ideals, because they came here to participate in the culture those ideals produced. This is why I am not very concerned about immigrants changing the culture. Immigrants to the United States all know that it is much better to be an American than to be anything else. It is the immigrants who change, much more than the culture, because of this. I know this is usually not the case in other countries, but that is because their culture IS based on nationality. An immigrant can embrace the ideals of the United States. But, say, a Turkish immigrant to Germany can’t turn himself into a German.

    I know some of you worry about the perceived decline of Christianity in American culture, but I think some part of our culture encourages faith even as it encourages the “pursuit of happiness”. This is the most religious culture in the world. A lot of Americans practice the WRONG religion, but that’s a problem for Christians to solve through evangelism.

  • allen

    The U.S. is basically an empty country. It only seems crowded because most people live in the crowded parts of it. To my humble way of thinking, we need lots of immigration – and I mean of course, of the legal sort – divided up between Eurasia, Africa, and Latin America in roughly equal measure. How to explain this to the average American in a way that will seem good to him is beyond my humble way of thinking.

    But I know that if a company were accepting employment applications in the same ethnic groups ratio as the U.S. total legal/illegal immigration, they couldn’t avoid EEOC charges on grounds of schlamperei. The illegal employers must be put in prison (so they couldn’t pass the cost of their fines along to us). Of course, “un-forgeable document” is a contradiction in terms. But there are ways of increasing the cost of forgery of a certain document. Everything happens at the margin.

  • allen

    The U.S. is basically an empty country. It only seems crowded because most people live in the crowded parts of it. To my humble way of thinking, we need lots of immigration – and I mean of course, of the legal sort – divided up between Eurasia, Africa, and Latin America in roughly equal measure. How to explain this to the average American in a way that will seem good to him is beyond my humble way of thinking.

    But I know that if a company were accepting employment applications in the same ethnic groups ratio as the U.S. total legal/illegal immigration, they couldn’t avoid EEOC charges on grounds of schlamperei. The illegal employers must be put in prison (so they couldn’t pass the cost of their fines along to us). Of course, “un-forgeable document” is a contradiction in terms. But there are ways of increasing the cost of forgery of a certain document. Everything happens at the margin.

  • http://www.shempel.blogspot.com Sarah in Maryland

    I have been reading about the Black Death in the Middle Ages lately. In the 12th century there was an economic boom that was the direct result of a population boom. When the Black Death hit, everything came to a standstill with up to half the population dead. HOWEVER, shortly thereafter there was the Renaissance. With fewer people, everyone had a job and the lives of the peasants improved. Plus, there was a great flowering in the arts and sciences. What can we learn from this?

    You can see both sides. For the earth to benefit from a population decline, it has to decline across the board, not just babies.

    Children are blessings from God, but they are very expensive to care for in an industrialized society. they are also very difficult to care for because we no longer live in tight-knit communities. It is a lot of work caring for a single child when you are a woman by yourself. (It is hard even if you are married and your husband is at work all day!) If we were living in an agrarian society, people would have a different attitude about them.

  • http://www.shempel.blogspot.com Sarah in Maryland

    I have been reading about the Black Death in the Middle Ages lately. In the 12th century there was an economic boom that was the direct result of a population boom. When the Black Death hit, everything came to a standstill with up to half the population dead. HOWEVER, shortly thereafter there was the Renaissance. With fewer people, everyone had a job and the lives of the peasants improved. Plus, there was a great flowering in the arts and sciences. What can we learn from this?

    You can see both sides. For the earth to benefit from a population decline, it has to decline across the board, not just babies.

    Children are blessings from God, but they are very expensive to care for in an industrialized society. they are also very difficult to care for because we no longer live in tight-knit communities. It is a lot of work caring for a single child when you are a woman by yourself. (It is hard even if you are married and your husband is at work all day!) If we were living in an agrarian society, people would have a different attitude about them.


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