The U.S. birthrate has plunged along with the economy in recent years. According to Pew Research, the number of births dropped from a record high in 2007 to an all-time low in 2011. The number for 2012 remained at the lowest since 1998, despite the recession being over for more than three years. Rice University Sociology Professor Steve Murdock has been following fertility rates for years, and says these numbers are nothing new. "This is a long term pattern of change that has certainly been accentuated by the economic downturn and recession that began in the latter part of the last decade," he tells KTRH.
The "long term pattern" Murdock refers to is an overall decline in the U.S. birthrate since the Baby Boom era of the 1950s and 1960s. Even though the number of births reached a record high in 2007, the rate of births per 1,000 women has seen a long downward trend for decades. Murdock explains the economy is just one factor in that decline. "As you see the average age of marriage go up, which has occurred for all groups in the United States, you'll see therefore there are less child-bearing years," he says. Indeed, the trends show that as education levels have grown and societal norms changed, women are waiting longer to have kids or deciding not to have them at all. Marriage also is not as strong a predictor of children as it once was, since many young couples are now putting off parenthood due to economic concerns.
Murdock sees the current phenomenon as ultimately having major repercussions for the demographics of the country. "The Census Bureau now believes that by about 2060, all of the growth in the United States will be as a result of immigration," he says. Even if the economy recovers to pre-2008 levels, Murdock and other demographers don't expect the birthrate to recover in the same way. He predicts this will become the new normal. "We occasionally have things in the demographic field that surprise us, but this long term trend may not be one of those," he says. "I personally think we are going to continue to see a decline in fertility and those kinds of patterns."