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.