The Puzzle of Falling US Birth Rates since the Great Recession

Journal of Economic Perspectives, Journal of Economic Perspectives 36(1), 151-176, February .


Between 1980 and 2007, US birth rates generally fluctuated within a narrow range of roughly 65 to 70 births per 1,000 women between ages 15 and 44. Since then, US birth rates have plummeted, reaching 55.8 per 1,000 women in 2020—about a 20 percent decline over 13 years. Figure 1 plots the trend in the US birth rates. The decline began at the onset of the Great Recession and continued during the ensuing recovery, with no signs of reversing. This paper considers possible suspects behind the falling birth rates. We begin with a detailed look at birth rates by demographic groups defined by age, education, race and ethnicity, marital status, and birth parity. A detailed examination by group might offer some preliminary clues as to what types of factors might be responsible for the aggregate trend. While the decline is concentrated among women in the under-30 age group, the decline is generally widespread across demographic subgroups, which gives reason to suspect that the dominant explanation for the aggregate decline is likely to be multifaceted or society-wide. We see no indication in the data that there is likely to be a reversal of these trends in the near future.

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