The fertility rate for U.S. women reached an all-time low in 2015. All told, there have been 3.4 million fewer births since 2007 than would have occurred had fertility rates not declined, writes Hamilton Lombard in the StatChat blog.
There are reasons to be concerned. Fewer births means fewer Americans entering the workforce, fewer workers paying into Medicare and Social Security, and fewer taxpayers to support the swelling national debt, which now stands at $19 trillion and counting.
But Lombard finds a silver lining. A big one. The decline in births is concentrated among teens. That decline, he argues, is tied to the increase in the high school graduation rates and college attendance as teens put off starting families until they have earned a high school and/or college degree.
Teenage pregnancy was once fairly common and even socially acceptable, particularly after World War II, when there were plenty of well-paying jobs available that did not require a high school diploma, much less a college degree. As these low-skill jobs began to disappear, the teenage birth rate started to fall. By the mid-2000s the U.S. teen birth rate had declined by 50 percent since 1960.
Insofar as inter-generational poverty in America is demographic in nature — poor teens giving birth to children and raising them in poverty before acquiring skills needed to rise out of poverty — declining fertility is a very good thing.
The national trends do not play out evenly. As can be seen in Lombard’s map above, the change was dramatic in some Virginia jurisdictions between 20007 and 2014 and far less noticeable in others.
In the City of Richmond, the birth of children to teens fell from 470 to 149 over that period — an astonishing decline. The overwhelming number of those 331 never-born children would have been raised in poverty and at high risk of never rising out of it. By contrast, the decline was far more modest in rural localities of Southwest Virginia.
Here is the decline in teen births between 2007 and 2011 in Virginia broken down by race, according to Centers for Disease Control data:
All races — 28% decline
Non-Hispanic whites — 20%
Non-Hispanic blacks — 29%
Hispanics — 50%
And here is the 2011 birth rate per 1,000 teenagers aged 15-19:
All Races — 24.5 births
Non-Hispanic whites — 19.4
Non-Hispanic blacks — 37.4
Hispanics — 36.9