And Is It Bad For Our Future?

For the first time ever, pregnancy rates in the U.S. are at all-time low, and it's a trend that continues around the world. Why are so many women choosing to have fewer pregnancies — or forgo motherhood all together?

Empty hospital birth war | PregnancyAndBaby.com

When I announced my fourth pregnancy, I have to admit that I braced myself for some not-so-supportive comments about overpopulation and burgeoning birthrates. Were my husband and I being totally irresponsible in bringing another life into the world?

Turns out, I might be worrying too much

Contrary to popular belief, in the U.S. and even worldwide, the birthrate among women is on the decline.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2012 statistics on birth in the U.S. (the most recent complete statistics available), the general fertility rate declined to 63 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 for a grand total of 3,952,841 births in the U.S. that year.

Interestingly enough, birthrates actually declined for women in their "prime" childbearing years, aged 20 to 29, while births did increase for women who were aged 30 to 44 years old.

But the main indicator of fertility is calculated by a total fertility rate, estimated by the number of births over a woman’s lifetime, which declined 1 percent to 1,880.5 per 1,000 women from 2011, when the rate was 1.9 percent. Most recently, the highest birthrate was 3.71 percent in 1960. Even as recently as 2010, the fertility rate was 2.01 percent. And according to USA Today, our current low birthrate is actually too low — the replacement level for births needs to be at 2.1 percent. Even more troublesome, the CDC reports that the birthrate has actually been below replacement level since 1971.

So what is causing the decline?

Well, for one thing, the age of first-time mothers is on the rise, which subsequently results in fewer births as fertility declines with age. The CDC's data from 2012 shows that the average first-time mother now gives birth at approximately age 26, and the fertility rate for women aged 40 to 44 was at a whopping 10.4 percent.

Other experts cite economic recession as a reason for the decline, pointing back to the 1970s, when the birthrate declined to 1.7 percent as more women headed back to work to make up the income gap.

Sam Sturgeon, president of Demographic Intelligence told USA Today that he isn't sure if the difference can be made up, simply because people's attitudes towards what makes up the "perfect" family have changed throughout the years.

"The two-child family is still kind of the ideal culturally," he said. "However, you can only delay so long and it will have an impact on the number of children we have."

And of course, the workplace has to be credited with a lower birthrate for women as well. Without widespread change that supports family-friendly policies in the workplace, it's not exactly easy for women to take time off to pop out some more kids.

It will be interesting to see what happens when current baby boomers and retirees leave the workplace, without a fresh crop of workers to replace them.

But as for me?

I guess I can stop feeling badly and raise a toast to doing my part to replace that declining birthrate. Four kids, anyone?

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