March 21st, 2012 | Posted in Population Basics
by Carl Haub, senior demographer
The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) has reported that the preliminary number of births in the United States fell to 3,978,000 during the 12-month period from July 2010 to June 2011. The last time births were below 4 million a year was in 1999. So the decline in births, believed by many to be a result of the Great Recession, has continued. The crude birth rate (CBR) fell to 12.8 births per 1,000 population, down from a recent high of 14.3 in 2007 before the recession is said to have begun. But, as NCHS notes, the rate of decline has slowed. That may suggest that this relatively minor baby “bust” may be bottoming out.
A variety of measures of fertility is given in the table below. The third column, births per 1,000 women ages 15-44, called the general fertility rate (GFR,) is a somewhat better measure of fertility since it restricts the denominator of the rate to women in their childbearing ages. As such, it is not influenced by the population above and below those ages, as is the CBR.
Source: National Center for Health Statistics. 2010 and 2011 figures are preliminary. July 2010 - June 2011 total fertility rate is a PRB estimate.
The fourth column contains the most-watched fertility measure, the total fertility rate (TFR). I say “most-watched” since it is not influenced by age groups in a population and expresses fertility in a more meaningful and easily understood way. The TFR is the average number of children a woman would bear in her lifetime if the birth rate of a particular year were to remain constant. That has dropped to about 1.9 from 2.1 several years earlier. And, significant from a demographic perspective, it has fallen below replacement level and has been it below for two and a half years. Replacement-level fertility simply means that couples have about two children each, replacing themselves and not increasing the size of each successive generation. A TFR that remains below replacement will ultimately lead to natural decrease, i.e., more deaths each year than births.
From what appears in the U.S. and international media, there seems to be a continuing impression that the United States is one of a very few industrialized countries with replacement-level fertility. But, at least for the time being, that is no longer the case. Compared with other countries, a decrease in births of about 8 percent (since 2005) is hardly game-changing. But, for those in the business of supplying baby and young child products, a drop of a few hundred thousand births is no small thing.