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CDC confirms US fertility rate fell to ‘all-time low’ in 2018

The fertility rate among women age 15 to 44 dropped 2% between 2017 and 2018, from 60.3 births per 1,000 women aged 15-44, to 59.1.

(Image: Christian Bowen/

Washington D.C., Jul 25, 2019 / 11:23 am (CNA).- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Wednesday that the US fertility rate continued to fall in 2018, to an all-time low. The report confirms provisional figures released in May.

“The 2018 general fertility rate fell to another all-time low for the United States,” researchers with the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics wrote in a July 24 report.

The fertility rate among women age 15 to 44 dropped 2% between 2017 and 2018, from 60.3 births per 1,000 women aged 15-44, to 59.1.

The percentage of children delivered at less than 39 weeks increased, from 9.93% in 2017 to 10.02% in 2018. The percentage of births preterm and early term increased, while full-, late- and post-term deliveries declined.

According to the early statistical release from the NCHS in May, the total fertility rate, or average number of children born per woman, stands at 1.7, well below the demographic replacement bar of 2.1.

In 2018, fewer than 3.8 million children were born in the country. Since a peak in 2007, birth rates have fallen in all but one of the last 11 years. The results also show a continued trend of lower fertility among younger women over the last decade.

The data comes amid warnings from experts about the economic and social consequences of the continued decline. At the same time, the same experts say that the complicated causes of ever-lower fertility mean there are no clear or easy ways of reversing the trend.

While the statistics underline a stark trend, experts emphasize that there is no single root cause behind the general decline.

In the past, women in their 20s have had the highest birth rate. But since 1968, the average age of a first-time mother has increased by more than five years, from 21.4 to 26.8.

Last year, childbirth rates among women aged 20-24 dropped 4%, and 3% among women aged 25-29. In 2018, women aged 30-34 had a higher birthrate than those aged 25-29 – marking the first time women in their early thirties were the leading age demographic for the number of children born.

Johnathan V. Last, author of the book “What to Expect When No One is Expecting,” points to a complex of social factors which, he says, contribute to the numbers of women having fewer children later in life.

“Many of the reasons people are having children later are good and reasonable. Look at the drop in fertility among 20-24 year-olds: that’s in large part down to the number of people now attending college, and people just don’t tend to get married and start families while they are in college,” Last told CNA when the provisional data were released in May.

Dr. Catherine Pakaluk, Assistant Professor of Social Research and Economic thought at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that changes in the use of contraception could also be a factor.

Since 2002, use of the contraceptive pill has declined in favor of implanted contraceptive devices. In 2002, 19% of women aged 15-44 reported using the pill, while only 1.3% used IUDs. By 2017, pill usage had dropped to less than 14%, and 8.6% of women were using IUDs.

This, Pakaluk said, could be contributing to the sharp drop in unplanned pregnancies.

“These long-acting contraceptives tend to be much more immune to behavioral screw-ups. Even with the pill people are prone to contracepting badly and have a higher error rate leading to accidental but not necessarily unwelcome births, and these are disappearing.”

“It’s not a negligible percent, I don’t think it is the whole story but I do think it could be enough to be dragging us down to the historic lows we are seeing.”

Pakaluk said that while it is difficult to study, a shift in the way women approach pregnancy and contraceptives means that birth rates are increasingly subject to the expectations and experiences of generations raised in smaller families.

“One thing that should give us pause, and which I am really interested in examining more closely, is the effect of being around babies on adolescent wellbeing and mental health,” Pakaluk said.

“If you live in a society in which the typical family has three or four children, the older children will be experiencing a young child into their teenage years. But if you move to an average of 1.5-2, no teenagers on average will live with babies – think what that means for their own likely fertility choices.”

Experts have long warned about the wider societal and economic problems associated with declining birth rates, especially below the population replacement rate.

Last told CNA that the wider aspirations of society and politics to sustain and grow social welfare programmes depends on a demographic model opposite to current trends.

“The things we take for granted, let alone the things we aspire to do, in welfare, healthcare and so on, just do not work when you have an inversion of the population growth” Last told CNA.

Pakaluk agreed that there is widespread consensus on the economic and social problems associated with the long-term trend of lower fertility.

“We see immediately that it is not socially optimal from any rational social planning perspective because you know you cannot support the generous social programs that we like to think are good for society,” Pakaluk said. “Things like a decent social security system, MediCare, MedicAid, you just cannot sustain them in the long run with a total fertility rate of 1.7.”

But if the wider problems associated with dropping fertility rates are well known, both Pakaluk and Last highlight widespread dissatisfaction at the personal level.

“While the wider societal problems are well known,” Pakaluk said, “what is fascinating is that is seems that it isn’t individually optimal either.”

“What we do know, which is not often raised in media coverage, is that over the last several decades every survey in a Western country that asks women to describe their ideal family size – every single one everywhere – gives you a number about one child more than women end up having.”

Last told CNA that these numbers need to be considered as a factor in the state of our society.

“What we are seeing is the constant ‘fertility gap’ between people’s stated desire to have more than two kids and the reality that they tend to have less,” Last said. “For a whole host of reasons, people aren’t meeting their own expectations, and that has wider societal impact.”

Pakaluk said that the connection between parenthood and individual happiness is well known but rarely considered in relation to the fertility gap.

“We are living in a fascinating paradox. In the post-feminist age of women’s right and control of reproduction they are not getting what it is that they say they want.”

According to Last, there is a level or irreducible complexity to changes in the fertility rate, intended or otherwise.

“The causes of lower fertility are incredibly complicated, and there is no obvious or simple mechanism for moving those numbers in the other direction,” he said. “It isn’t a matter of simply pushing button A and pulling lever X, it’s everything.”

“Of course,” Last noted, “ consistently the single greatest tracker of higher fertility is church attendance: across all faith communities, people who regularly show up for religious services have more kids.”

“I think a big part of this is looking at your life as part of a linear continuum, understanding your place between what has come before and what will come after helps condition you to understanding the greater good of starting a family and having children,” said Last.

“If your worldview is primarily formed around personal fulfillment and self-actualization, where is the incentive to have a family? You might have one child for the experience, but not two or three or four.”

Countries around the world are experiencing similarly falling fertility rates.

In South Korea in 2017, there were 7 births per 1,000 people, a number which has since fallen.

In February, the Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban announced that women with four children or more will be exempt from paying income tax for life, in an effort to encourage births. The Hungarian fertility rate is currently 1.45 children per woman.

A study published in The Lancet in November 2018 found that nearly half of countries have fertility rates below replacement level.

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  1. This will not be a popular view, especially since it comes from an Austrian economics website, but the author makes a case that the generous social welfare programs of which the Church hierarchy and most of the laity desire and consider a non-negotiable are a large part of the problem.
    I would argue “other schooling” (public, private and parochial), which the Church also seems to prefer, is also part of the problem, especially given all the labor saving devices we have today. There is just not much to do at home unless one homeschools (I’ll limit it to K-8). For their own sanity, women need to work/volunteer at least part time. Working outside the home and having young children is a very difficult set to organize, though.

  2. We all know what is causing the decrease in fertility rate. We just don’t want to talk about it. Instead our attention is redirected to things like climate change, immigration, animal rights, free education-healthcare-food for everyone etc. etc. etc.

    When was the last time you heard a sermon on the moral teaching of the church from the pulpit that spoke to the consequences of not repenting for our sins? Instead of “radical conversion”, the last Sunday homily I heard emphasized “radical hospitality” and that was given to explain the gospel in which Jesus critiqued Martha for her placing her secondary concern of hospitality over Mary’s primary concern of His teaching.

    People are not having children because they are using every means available to avoid having children. Children are viewed as a “burden” rather than a “blessing” and marriage has become a “contract” instead of a “covenant”, a secondary consideration to cohabitation with benefits.

  3. Question: What if we were to add in potential live births–that is, pregnancies terminated by abortions? What would the “fertility rate” look like then? 60-70 million abortions in the US over the last half century must have a powerful effect on such statistics.

  4. Let’s face reality. Our culture thrives on self-indulgence the effects of grace waning to zero. Sexual enterprise in full force Life relegated to irrelevance. At this stage of the Christ appeal for salvation eschewed it’s really up to you and I those who understand the eminent Wrath to Come to get close to Christ with daily communion, prayer, sacrifice, willingness to offer ourselves with Jesus’ passionate act of merciful suffering to recover the beautiful children of the Creator from eternal damnation.

  5. It seems odd to me that pregnancies are reported by “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.” They’re not a disease.

    • Leslie that pregnancy of late has been considered a medical matter primarily affecting the health of the mother, the fetus-infant called a mass of cells killing the prenatal infant a medical health procedure the ‘inconvenience’ of pregnancy [even canon law uses the terminology grave inconvenience] consistent with this morally twisted mindset falls under disease [dis ease, grave inconvenience] control.

  6. Jim :
    “We all know what is causing the decrease in fertility rate…”


    I think what you say about children seen as a burden is sometimes true, but a part of the drop in our fertility rate is due to women waiting longer & longer to marry-if they even marry at all. And then additionally waiting for the right moment in their career or education to attempt pregnancy.
    The ideal time to have a family can’t be based just on financial security. Biology plays a much greater role.

  7. The beauty of parenthood (Marriage) and its unifying bound the creation of a new life.

    “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh”

    The TRUTH of this statement can be seen in any offspring they may be blest with, and this statement is truly life-giving. As the greatest gift we have received is the gift of life, given by God through the action of our parents, refusing to fully partake in His creation by deliberately denying another the opportunity of life, is sinful, and this sin is known ‘innately’ by all of mankind.

    From HV.20. “The teaching of the Church regarding the proper regulation of birth is a promulgation of the law of God Himself.
    And yet there is no doubt that to many it will appear not merely difficult but even impossible to observe”

    So yes, if we are to be honest, is not this the reason why so many justify using contraception. But rather than accept their limitations before God, they have created self-serving consciences and in doing so they hide their nakedness (Shame) before Him, by hiding in the bushes and covering themselves with leaves (excuses). And in doing so stifle spiritual growth.

    I have made this comment on many sites, directed at both sexes, which goes to the heart of the matter, as it is ‘innately’ known within all honest hearts.

    “I wonder if anyone who reads this has the honesty and courage to serve the Truth by acknowledging that at some time in their life they have felt the natural inclination of a tinge of sadness or/and been aware that they have participated in the possible loss of a new life through an act of using a method of contraception”

    No one ever responds I wonder why

    There are many social, economic and health reasons why people use contraception form downright selfishness to the other end of the spectrum one of very low income, poverty, bad housing, poor education, abusive marriages, mental health issues, substance abuse, HIV, broken relationships as in one partner refuses to have sex without the use of contraception, many of these are cultural Catholics and often poorly educated ones, who have never really committed to the faith, also for many in these badly fractured life situations, NFP is totally impractical.

    I have proposed a way forward to one based on humility, manifest by venerating the true Divine Mercy Image one of Broken Man, given by our Lord Himself to the Church, that has the potential within it to create unity of purpose, while encourage spiritual growth, within the whole Church. Were this to happen it would draw in many Protestant denominations to the Catholic Church’s teaching on HV, in condemning contraception as sinful, as we would now have the means to create Unity of purpose, based on humility, rather than self-justification.

    Would it not be better to be honest by those who use contraception and acknowledge the Truths within Humanae Vitae before God and the faithful just prior to receiving Communion, in that they cannot live to its demands through human frailty?
    And in doing so grow spiritually, which would most certainly, also encourage more births.

    Please consider continuing via the link; leading to a way forward in humility for all who are entangled in sinful situations (Cannot receive the Sacrement of reconciliation)

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

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