Birth Rates In The US Are Falling And We're Not Sure Why

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People are having children later – and having fewer of them. That's the basic takeaway of a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this month, an update of one released in May 2018.

You might not find that surprising. After all, the new data simply reinforces a trend that has been documented for a while now. That is, that US fertility (or at least birth rate) is on the decline. Interestingly, this is being seen across the board, from city centers to small rural communities and across all three of the race groups studied (non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, and Hispanic). 

According to the CDC's definition, "total fertility rate" is an estimation of the number of births that a hypothetical group of 1,000 women would have over their lifetimes calculated by using the age-specific birth rates in any given year. That number has dropped dramatically over the last decade, by 12 percent for women in rural areas, 16 percent in small to medium metro areas, and 18 percent in large metro areas.

Overall fertility rates continue to be higher in rural areas, which has historically been the case but, as the researchers point out, that gap has increased over the last 10 years. In 2007, the fertility rate was 5 percent higher in rural counties than in metro counties. By 2017, that figure had grown to 10 percent for small metro or medium areas and 14 percent for large metro areas. 

So while a woman living in a large city like Chicago or New York might now be expected to have on average 1.712 children in her lifetime, another living in rural Idaho might have 1.95. Compare this to 2007, when women in all three settings were expected to have around 2.1 children over the course of a lifetime. 

This trend for fewer children was paired with a tendency to delay motherhood. The average maternal age at first birth increased by 1.3 years in rural areas (23.2 to 24.5), 1.5 years in small or medium areas (24.3 to 25.8), and 1.8 years in large metro counties (25.9 to 27.7). 

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