The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that births in the USA reached another historic low in 2020.
For the sixth consecutive year, the birth rate dropped — this time by 4%. The average annual drop in the five previous years was 2%.
The rate at which American women are having babies is way below the rate necessary to keep the population steady-state — that is, for the population not to shrink.
A steady-state population requires a total fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman. In 2020, it was 1.64.
Needless to say, for politicians, there is no problem that does not have a government solution, and the birth dearth is no exception.
Both President Joe Biden and Sen. Mitt Romney have plans for bolstering American families. The president’s American Families Plan proposes to spend a modest $1.8 trillion. Romney is pitching his Family Security Act, which proposes per-child government payments up to $1,250 per family per month.
Romney writes in The Wall Street Journal, “Young people are marrying less and having fewer kids in part because they don’t feel confident about their job prospects and financial security.”
But if less marriage and fewer children are the result of today’s economic stress, why is it that in 1960, the fertility rate was 3.58 — more than double today’s 1.64 — yet today’s real per capita income, per the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, is over three times higher than it was in 1960?
According to the Institute for Family Studies, in 2018, 35% of Americans ages 25 to 50 had never been married. In 1970, only 9% in this age range had never been married.
Is this because times got harder? I don’t think so. Per capita income in 2018 was 2.4 times higher than it was in 1970.
I don’t think our young people are avoiding marriage and children because of concerns about financial security.
I think they are avoiding marriage and children because they don’t want marriage and children.
In a Pew Research survey conducted in 2019, 16% said having children is essential for a man to have a fulfilling life, and 16% said marriage is essential for a man to have a fulfilling life, while 57% said “having a job or career they enjoy” is essential for a man to have a fulfilling life.
Regarding women, 22% said having children is essential for a fulfilling life. Seventeen percent said marriage is essential for a fulfilling life. And 46% said “having a job or career they enjoy” is essential for a fulfilling life.
What does it all mean?
In 1960, 9.1% of our population was over age 65. By 2019, 16.2% of the population was over 65.
A graying population, due to fewer and fewer children, means a shrinking portion of the population that is working and producing, and increasingly large numbers of elderly and retirees whom those working must support.
Consider our Social Security system, where retirees’ benefits are drawn from the payroll tax paid by working citizens. In 1945, there were 41.9 working citizens for every retiree. By 1950, this was down to 16.5 to 1. By 1990, it was 3.4 to 1. And as of 2013 (the latest data available), it was 2.8 to 1.
Trustees of Social Security report that by 2034, 13 years from now, the system will only have sufficient revenue to pay 76% of the benefits due to retirees.
Per the Kaiser Family Foundation, in 2016, those age 65 and over constituted 16% of our population yet represented 36% of all health care spending.
The collapse of marriage, family and the national birthrate is the result of the secularization of our culture. Faith and values have been displaced by materialism and egotism.
How do we turn it around? As a starter, let’s have more parental choice in education so parents can get their children out of public schools and into religious schools, where they can learn values that sustain life.
Star Parker is President of the Center for Urban Renewal and Education and host of the weekly television show “CURE America with Star Parker.”