U.S. Birth Rate Trends With State Breakout
The birth rate is the annual number of births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. In 2018, the U.S. birth rate was 59 births per 1,000 women, the lowest in 32 years.
This has worsened the age dependency ratio. That’s the number of seniors in a population divided by the number of working age people. That number has doubled since 1950. It increases the costs of Social Security and health care to society.
The chart below illustrates birth rates for women across the United States in 2017, ranging from ages 15-44.
Why U.S. Birth Rates Are Falling
U.S. birth rates are falling for three reasons:
1. Teenage pregnancy is dropping.
It’s good news that fewer teenagers are having children. In 2017, there were 18.8 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19. Of those who had children, 75% were 18 or 19. Almost all occurred outside of marriage.
Teenage birth rates are down 70% since 1991, its most recent peak. Research shows there are more teens who have chosen to wait before having sex. Those who do are more likely to use contraceptives.
This trend is healthy for society. Studies show that teenage parents are less likely to finish school. Education is highly correlated with higher lifetime income. The National Longitudinal Survey of Young Women found that women who have children at 17 instead of 18 or 19 reduce their family income by $700 a year.
2. Younger women are delaying motherhood.
Birth rates fell 4% among women aged 20 to 29 years old. A New York Times survey found that young women said they don't have money or time to have more children. The top reason was that childcare was too expensive. These women can't afford to stay home to raise their babies but most can't get jobs that pay for good child care. The second biggest reason was that many women would rather spend more time with their existing children than have new ones. The next three reasons involved financial insecurity. They were either worried about the economy, couldn't afford more children, or had personal financial instability.
3. Almost a third of young women don't want children at all.
The New York Times survey found that these women are focused on their careers. This is the first generation that expects to earn less than their parents. As a result, they don't feel financially secure. They also value other things such as travel.
These women realize that having a child will hurt their earning potential. A 2017 study found that motherhood was the underlying reason for the gender pay gap. It didn’t matter whether the mothers worked outside the home or not. Stay-at-home moms lost earning power because they didn’t have relevant work experience. But even working moms suffered throughout their careers. Distractions due to childrearing kept them from promotional opportunities. The result was lower pay.
A 2018 NBER study found women’s earnings fell after the birth of their first child. Men’s earnings were not affected. Even 10 years after parenthood, women's salaries were 20% lower than their male counterparts. One reason is that employers see fathers as more competent employees than mothers.
A more recent 2018 study found that a similar loss occurred for MBAs, lawyers, and doctors. Scientists initially saw a setback but were able to almost erase the discrepancy in 10 years.
Birth Rate by State
Birth rates vary a great deal by state. The five states with the lowest birth rates are Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. These states all have birth rates below 53, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation.
What do they have in common? They are all on the East Coast. They have major metropolitan areas that have the major Ivy League universities. As a result, all except Rhode Island are among the top 10 most educated states in the country. Massachusetts, at 82, is the most highly educated state in the country. As the New York Times survey showed, women who pursue higher education are less likely to have children.
They also have high median ages: Vermont at 43.1, New Hampshire at 42.7, Rhode Island at 40.2, Massachusetts at 39.5, and Connecticut at 40.9. For obvious reasons, older women are less likely to have babies.
The five states with the highest birth rates are South Dakota, North Dakota, Utah, Alaska, and Nebraska. These states all have birth rates above 69. They are all in the Midwest or West. They also have low median ages: South Dakota at 36.8, North Dakota at 35, Utah at 30.7, Alaska at 33.5, and Nebraska at 36.3. They don’t rank as highly in education levels. Only Utah is in the top 10.
The list below shows the birth rate for women age 15 to 44 for each state. The list is organized from lowest to highest birth rate:
- Vermont 49.7
- New Hampshire 50.2
- Rhode Island 50.9
- Massachusetts 51.2
- District of Columbia 51.3
- Connecticut 52.3
- Maine 53.1
- Oregon 53.8
- Colorado 56.6
- New York 57.4
- Pennsylvania 57.8
- West Virginia 58
- California 58.2
- Florida 58.4
- Illinois 59
- New Jersey 59
- South Carolina 59.1
- Michigan 59.4
- North Carolina 59.6
- Virginia 59.7
- Washington 59.8
- Maryland 60
- Wisconsin 60
- New Mexico 60.1
- Delaware 60.2
- Georgia 60.2
- Nevada 60.7
- Arizona 60.8
- Tennessee 61.7
- Alabama 62
- Montana 62.1
- Ohio 62.1
- Missouri 62.3
- Mississippi 63.1
- Indiana 63.4
- Wyoming 64.1
- Minnesota 64.3
- Kentucky 64.5
- Iowa 64.9
- Texas 64.9
- Arkansas 65
- Louisiana 65.2
- Oklahoma 65.3
- Kansas 65.4
- Hawaii 65.9
- Idaho 67.4
- Nebraska 69.8
- Alaska 71.5
- Utah 72
- North Dakota 73.4
- South Dakota 76.4
The birth rate rises and falls with age. The more young women there are in a state, the higher the birth rate. So, scientists have created a measure called the fertility rate. It measures the number of babies a hypothetical group of 1,000 women would have over their lifetime. It’s a good way to find out whether a society will increase or decrease in population.
The fertility rate should be 2,100 births per 1,000 women to maintain population levels. In other words, each woman should have two children to replace the two adult parents.
In 2018, the U.S. fertility rate was 1,728 births per 1,000 women. That's too low to maintain its population.
Solutions for a Declining Fertility Rate
There are only two solutions to a declining fertility rate. The first is to encourage families to have more children. The United States does this through tax policy and job protection. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 increased the Child Tax Credit from $1,000 to $2,000. Parents who don't earn enough to pay taxes can claim the credit up to $1,400. It increases the income level from $110,000 to $400,000 for married tax filers. The Family and Medical Leave Act protects a new mother’s job for 3 months. But it doesn’t provide paid leave.
Other countries offer more creative solutions. Russia pays mothers $10,000 for a second child. Singapore pays $9,000 for a second child, and $18,000 for a third. France offers free day-care centers.
The second is to boost immigration. Newcomers to a country are more likely to be younger. Once established, they are more likely to have children.
The Bottom Line
U.S. birth rates are declining. This is cause for concern because an aging population puts a strain on the economy. Social security and health care expenses, for instance, significantly eat into the nation’s income if this is not balanced by taxes from a sizable working age group.
Three major factors reduce birth rates: decreased teenage pregnancies, delayed motherhood, and an increase in women who refuse to have children. More and more women choose education and the higher income over having children. All these factors contribute to the nation’s overall declining fertility rates.
To address the situation, the United States may do two things. First, the government can encourage more births by dispensing more tax credits per family to boost income. Second, it can open its doors to more immigrants.