The U.S. Birthrate Has Dropped Again. The Pandemic May Be Accelerating the Decline.

Over all, the birthrate declined by 4 percent in 2020. Births were down most sharply in December, when babies conceived at the start of the health crisis would have been born.


By Sabrina Tavernise

The birthrate declined for the sixth straight year in 2020, the federal government reported on Wednesday, early evidence that the coronavirus pandemic accelerated a trend among American women of delaying pregnancy.

Early in the pandemic, there was speculation that the major changes in the life of American families could lead to a recovery in the birthrate, as couples hunkered down together. In fact, they appeared to have had the opposite effect: Births were down most sharply at the end of the year, when babies conceived at the start of the pandemic would have been born.

Births declined by about 8 percent in December compared with the same month the year before, a monthly breakdown of government data showed. December had the largest decline of any month. Over the entire year, births declined by 4 percent, the data showed. There were 3,605,201 births in the United States last year, the lowest number since 1979. The birthrate — measured as the number of babies per thousand women ages 15 to 44 — has fallen by about 19 percent since its recent peak in 2007.

The declining birthrate is just one piece of America’s shifting demographic picture. Combined with a substantial leveling-off of immigration, and rising deaths, the country’s population over the past decade expanded at the second-slowest rate since the government started counting in the 18th century. The pandemic, which pushed the death rate higher and the birthrate even lower, appears to have deepened that trend.

Kenneth Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire, has calculated that together with the rise in deaths — up by about 18 percent from 2019 — the drop in births is contributing to the aging of the American population: A total of 25 states had more deaths than births last year, Dr. Johnson said, up from five at the end of 2019.

“The birthrate is the lowest it’s ever been,” he said. “At some point the question is going to be: The women who delayed having babies, are they ever going to have them? If they don’t, that’s a permanent notch in the American births structure.”

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