Baby-Boom or Birth-Dearth: Troubling Trends in the United States

In view of the many public efforts to increase access to contraception and sterilization, it is reasonable to suppose that we face a baby-boom crisis of epic proportions. An impending critical situation would make the proposed economic stimulus plans in 2008 more reasonable. The proposed plans included tens of billions of dollars for contraception and sterilization.

Surely a looming demographic explosion justifies the Affordable Care Act, and its oft-critiqued HHS mandate that offers contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs with no out of pocket costs. Supporters of the stimulus plans stated that fewer births would lead to cost savings for financially strapped states, and the HHS mandate was justified by the Institute of Medicine because “cost savings due to contraceptive use [are] estimated to be 19.3 billion.”

These initiatives might be indicative of a society that is having way too many babies, a burdensome road that cannot be continued. Economic crash, poverty, and a loss of freedom must be averted, so turn on the lights, use “protection,” but whatever you do, stop having babies, America!

Unfortunately, this perception is far from reality. There is no baby-boom – there is a birth-dearth. And, yes, there is economic stagnation and looming long-term economic decline, but this is exacerbated (or perhaps caused by) the decline in birth rates.

We have witnessed this in the disastrous economic situation throughout Europe, which is due in part to extremely low birth rates. Europe’s fate appears increasingly likely for the United States. We are not having enough babies to replace our current population levels. More specifically, married couples are having too few children, and increasingly, babies are being born outside of the stable environment of a home with a mother and father.

This is made clear by the Centers for Disease Control’s gloomy numbers from a recent report on preliminary data of births for 2011. Comprehensive analysis of the entire report is beyond the scope of this article, but we should note two troubling trends that merit greater discussion and response from society.

Total Drop in Births

Preliminary numbers indicate that 3,953,593 babies were born in the United States in 2011. This is a drop of 1% from 2010 and nearly a 10% drop since 2007. Last year, the general fertility rate was 63.2 births per 1000 women, which is the lowest rate ever reported for the United States.

The total fertility rate (estimated number of lifetime births per woman) was 1,894.5 births per 1,000 women. This drop in total fertility rate is critical because for a population to replace itself, a minimum of 2.1 children must be born for every woman. Additionally, this past year women gave birth to a first child at the lowest recorded rate in the history of the United States.

These numbers are suggestive of troubling trends that indicate that we are moving further toward European birth rates and away from the level necessary to avoid having an upside down family tree that cannot support the elderly.

A nation with a burgeoning number of social assistance programs (Social Security, Medicare, Affordable Care Act, etc) simply cannot survive economically if there are too few of “the next generation” working to support prior generations. Josh Sanburn recently notes in Time Magazine that “we’re becoming Europe. At least, that’s what a long line of U.S. birth-rate figures seems to be telling us. And that’s bad news for the future of the country.” That bad news is the collapse of the social safety net and perhaps even, the economy itself. The birth dearth is simply unsustainable.

Unmarried Women

A staggering 40.7% of all births to women in the United States were to unmarried women. While this is a slight decline (1%) in the percentage of births by unmarried women, the number remains historically high. For the sake of comparison, 33% of children in 2000 and 18.4% of children in 1980 were born out of wedlock.

While these are unsettling numbers as a whole, they are even more startling when broken down by race: 17.2% of all births by Asians/Pacific Islanders and 29.1% of all births by non-Hispanic whites are outside of marriage. Additionally, 53.3% of all births by Hispanics are outside of marriage, and 72.3% of Non-Hispanic Black children born in the United States last year were born to unmarried women.

These numbers point to a number of distressing trends in American society.

First, cohabiting non-married couples are on the rise and are bringing children into unstable relationships. Of the non-marital births noted above, 58% were from cohabiting couples from 2006-2010. Societal embrace of cohabitation has led to children being raised in unstable home settings in which there is a greater incidence of substance abuse, depression, delinquency, and poverty, among other social ills.

As Mark Regnerus’ recent study concludes, “children appear most apt to succeed well as adults on multiple counts and across a variety of domains – when they spend their entire childhood with their married mother and father and especially when their parents remain married to the present day.”

Second, premarital sex continues to be a cause of moral, social, and economic decline in Western societies. The culture of death’s focus on abortion and contraception inadequately responds to the symptoms arising from the breakdown of the family as a school of virtue and moral decay in general.

Finally, Black and Hispanic communities are in a precarious position in which the cycle of poverty and the breakdown of the family are perpetuated. Add to this the fact that black children are being disproportionately targeted by government programs that seek to reduce “unplanned pregnancies” by unmarried women. It is primarily the “unplanned births” of blacks that are prevented by the government’s free provision of contraceptives and ready access to abortion.

Unintended consequences

Undoubtedly the current economic recession has contributed to the decline in births as economic stress portends drops in fertility rates. While this seems clear, economic decline is not the sole or even primary cause of this decades-long decline in births in the United States.

Rather, the decline in births, to borrow a phrase from Blessed John Paul II, “bears the stamp of the culture of death.” Infected by a culture of death, American society increasingly perceives children as an “accident,” or as a “burden” or “drain on society.”

This mentality has deeply impacted the way the American people approach their relationships and decisions to give birth to the next generation. The married are discouraged from being generous with the gift of life and the “unplanned children” of the unmarried are targets for contraception and abortion.

The depressing and startling numbers from the Centers for Disease Control are one more harbinger that if we do not embrace life and love in Truth, the United States is sure to go head-long into further economic and moral chaos.

Arland K. Nichols served as HLI’s director of education and evangelization and executive editor of the Truth and Charity Forum until February 2014. He is currently president of the John Paul II Foundation in Texas, where he resides with his family.    
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  • Janet Susan

    Is there a related article that lists the statistical sources? I’d like to share this, but without the sources listed, most of those with an opposing view will just ignore it. Thanks.

  • ArlandNichols

    The source was included in the article just above the picture but we have added the embedded link for easy access. The source for the data is derived from the CDC’s “Births: Preliminary Data for 2011.”

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  • Shannon

    Baby Boomer to Millennial:

    “You want the same job opportunities and wages we had? Tough. That’s the way the world is now. I’m retired now, so why should I have to do anything about it? So stop whining and pull up your bootstraps.”

    “So your cost of living is going up even though your wages are stagnant. Too bad, so sad. Just have to work harder, that’s all. So stop whining and pull up your bootstraps.”

    “Complaining about our decaying social safety net and educational system now? Sorry, there’s not enough money to fund that and my tax break. You’ll just have to toughen up and take it. So work harder and hands off my SS.”

    “Health care system’s broke? So what, I’m not sick. If you can’t afford health care for you or your kids, that’s your problem. Just have to work harder, that’s all.”

    “Maternity leave? Sorry mom, no time off for slackers. I’ll expect your ass back in the office as soon as you get home from the hospital. Company’s got your best interests at heart, don’t you know. Reagan said so. Now get back to work.”

    “Worried about climate change? Bah. It’s all a secret conspiracy by the scientists to get more grant money so they can live like kings. Well, not kings exactly, more like moderately successful peasants. Still, the future looks great. The Koch brothers said so. So get back to work. ”

    “Oh, quick question; how come you guys aren’t having babies? Maybe you shouldn’t be spending all your time working.”

  • Shannon

    Guess what, Arland. A society doesn’t produce children, it earns them. So tell me, what have YOU done to earn those children?