For the first time in eight years, the U.S. birth rate increased – good news for conspiracy theorists who feared declining birth rates were unsustainable given our aging population. 2014 saw 62.9 births for every 1,000 women aged 15 to 44, an increase of 1%. Small, but significant, given the decline since 2007. But what gives?
“We are seeing this as sign of the times that people are responding to the end of the recession by being more comfortable in having a child,” Laura Lindberg, a principal research scientist at the Guttmacher Institute, told CNN.
Chronologically, the decline in births in the early aughts tightly corresponds with the so-called “great recession,” the economic fallout from irresponsible mortgage lending and investment. As the economy ground to a halt, so did procreation, it seems. After all, a lack of income is an excellent incentive to not produce an additional mouth to feed.
What makes the modest increase more remarkable is that among teens continues to decline. Down 61% since 1991 and declining 7% annually between 2007 and 2013, teen births dropped a further 9% in 2014. And it’s not that teens are getting more abortions, either – access to those remains stagnant. Instead, fewer teens are getting pregnant in the first place, the result of both cultural shifts and improved access to sex education and contraceptives.
Older women are also having more children, a trend in motion for some time. For women in their 30s, an improvement in the economy may signal reduced anxiety about having children. For women in their 40s and beyond, however, it’s a somewhat different story.
Their birth rates have been on the rise since 1990. It’s assumed that because they felt they had less leeway to postpone parenthood, not even the recession could discourage them. That pressure, combined with medical advancements, makes childbirth much more palatable for older women.
It’s uncertain the degree to which an increase in birthrate is sustainable. Presumably, researchers would expect it to return to the mean – but a modest increase is a start on the path to recovery.