Following a historic low from the year before, the birth rate dropped another percentage point, from 63 to only 62 births per 1,000 women aged 15–44. The total number of babies born in the United States last year was 3,941,109 — a drop of 37,388 fewer babies (1%) as compared to 2015.
Demographic experts fear the country is heading towards a national emergency. Others are attempting to remain more optimistic.
The study released by the National Center for Health Statistics, a division within the CDC, indicates teenagers and women in their 20s are having fewer babies compared to recent years. In fact, birth rates for women in all ages groups under 30 are at historic lows, with rates declining for teens aged 15–19, down 9 percent in 2016 to 20.3 births per 1,000 women; and rates for women aged 20–24 declining to 73.7 births per 1,000 women, a drop of 4 percent from 2015 (76.8), while those aged 25–29 dropped to 101.9 births per 1,000 women, a decline of 2% from 2015 (104.3).
Women in their 30s and 40s showed a slight increase in birth rate — one percent for 30-year-olds and a .04 percent increase for women in their 40s. But the increased birth rate was not enough to counter an overall decline.
The birth rate of a nation is among the most important measures of demographic health. The number must be within a specific range, referred to as the replacement level in order to keep a population stable so that it can survive. If the birth rate is too low, the nation will not be able to replenish the aging workforce and have enough tax revenue to maintain the economy.
Demographers have understood that declining birth rates spell disaster for a nation. Fewer people in the work force are fueling the economy and paying taxes, while growing numbers of elderly dependents have to rely on government assistance.
The total fertility rate (TFR) was below replacement — the level at which a given generation can exactly replace itself (2,100 births per 1,000 women). This rate has commonly been below replacement since 1971.
Donna M. Strobino is one of the researchers trying to remain positive. She is a professor of population, family and reproductive health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
In a recent article published at The Washington Post, Strobino focuses on millennials, noting that the birth rate of teenage girls has decreased while the birth rate of women between the ages of 25 to 34 has increased. She attributes this to many millennial women choosing education and career over motherhood, and delaying childbearing until later.
Some demographic experts fear the impact of women who are choosing not to have children at all. Philip Longman, a demographer and author of The Empty Cradle, details how "falling birthrates threaten world prosperity." He says, "The on-going global decline in human birth rates is the single most powerful force affecting the fate of nations and the future of society in the 21st century."
A prior study from the Brookings Institution supports the claim that the population drastically began to decline in the 1970s as a direct result of the legalization of the birth control pill. Contraception made easy, the divorce revolution, more women joining the workforce ahead of thinking about marriage and the sexual revolution that erupted since the 70s were all contributors, but the greatest impact on fertility was from the pill, which eliminated the unwanted pregnancies of 70 percent of married women.