Fears of overpopulation were exaggerated. The pandemic accentuated trends that were already underway.
The birthrate declined for the sixth straight year in 2020, the federal government reported on Wednesday, early evidence that the coronavirus pandemic accelerated a trend among American women of delaying pregnancy.Early in the pandemic, there was speculation that the major changes in the life of American families could lead to a recovery in the birthrate, as couples hunkered down together. In fact, they appeared to have had the opposite effect: Births were down most sharply at the end of the year, when babies conceived at the start of the pandemic would have been born.Births declined by about 8 percent in December compared with the same month the year before, a monthly breakdown of government data showed. December had the largest decline of any month. Over the entire year, births declined by 4 percent, the data showed. There were 3,605,201 births in the United States last year, the lowest number since 1979. The birthrate — measured as the number of babies per thousand women ages 15 to 44 — has fallen by about 19 percent since its recent peak in 2007.The declining birthrate is just one piece of America’s shifting demographic picture. Combined with a substantial leveling-off of immigration, and rising deaths, the country’s population over the past decade expanded at the second-slowest rate since the government started counting in the 18th century. The pandemic, which pushed the death rate higher and the birthrate even lower, appears to have deepened that trend.Kenneth Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire, has calculated that together with the rise in deaths — up by about 18 percent from 2019 — the drop in births is contributing to the aging of the American population: A total of 25 states had more deaths than births last year, Dr. Johnson said, up from five at the end of 2019. “The birthrate is the lowest it’s ever been,” he said. . . .Births declined across all age groups in 2020, except among women in their late 40s and girls in their early teens, groups that were tiny fractions of total births. The birthrate was down by 8 percent among teenagers, compared with 2019, and by 6 percent among women ages 20 to 24. The rate among women in their early 20s is down by 40 percent since 2007. . . . Teenagers have had the sharpest decline, down by 63 percent since 2007. . . . Today the average age at first birth is 27, up substantially from 23 in 2010.
The provisional general fertility rate (GFR) for the United States in 2020 was 55.8 births per 1,000 women aged 15–44, down 4% from the rate in 2019 (58.3), another record low for the nation. From 2014 to 2020, the GFR declined by an average of 2% per year.
GFRs declined for each of the race and Hispanic-origin groups from 2019 to 2020, down 3% for non-Hispanic NHOPI [Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander] women; 4% for non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, and Hispanic women; 7% for non-Hispanic AIAN [American Indian-Alaska Native] women; and 9% for non-Hispanic Asian women.The provisional total fertility rate (TFR) for the United States in 2020 was 1,637.5 births per 1,000 women, down 4% from the rate in 2019 (1,706.0), another record low for the nation. The TFR estimates the number of births that a hypothetical group of 1,000 women would have over their lifetimes, based on the age-specific birth rate in a given year.
The TFR in 2020 was again below replacement—the level at which a given generation can exactly replace itself (2,100 births per 1,000 women). The rate has generally been below replacement since 1971 and has consistently been below replacement since 2007.The provisional birth rate for teenagers in 2020 was 15.3 births per 1,000 females aged 15–19, down 8% from 2019 (16.7), reaching another record low for this age group. The rate has declined by 63% since 2007 (41.5), the most recent period of continued decline, and 75% since 1991, the most recent peak. The rate declined an average of 7% annually from 2007 to 2020. The number of births to females aged 15–19 was 157,548 in 2020, down 8% from 2019.
The provisional birth rates for teenagers aged 15–17 and 18–19 in 2020 were 6.3 and 28.8 births, respectively, down by 6% and 7% from 2019, again reaching record lows for both groups. From 2007 to 2020, the rates for teenagers aged 15–17 and 18–19 declined by 9% and 7% per year, respectively.
The provisional birth rate for females aged 10–14 was 0.2 births per 1,000 in 2020, unchanged since 2015.
The provisional birth rate for women aged 20–24 in 2020 was 62.8 births per 1,000 women, down 6% from 2019 (66.6), reaching yet another record low for this age group. This rate has declined by 40% since 2007. The number of births to women in their early 20s also declined by 6% from 2019 to 2020.
The provisional birth rate for women aged 25–29 was 90.0 births per 1,000 women, down 4% from 2019 (93.7), reaching another record low for this age group. The number of births to women in their late 20s declined 5% from 2019 to 2020.
The provisional birth rate for women aged 30–34 in 2020 was 94.8 births per 1,000 women, down 4% from 2019 (98.3). The number of births to women in this age group declined by 2% from 2019 to 2020.
The provisional birth rate for women aged 35–39 was 51.7 births per 1,000 women, down 2% from 2019 (52.8). The number of births to women in this age group declined by 2% from 2019 to 2020.
The provisional birth rate for women aged 40–44 in 2020 was 11.8 births per 1,000 women, down 2% from 2019 (12.0). The rate for this age group had risen almost continuously from 1985 to 2019, by an average of 3% per year. The number of births to these women was essentially unchanged from 2019 to 2020.
The provisional birth rate for women aged 45–49 (which includes births to women aged 50 and over) was 0.9 births per 1,000 women, unchanged since 2015. However, the number of births to women in this age group declined 4% from 2019 to 2020.
The decline was most marked in the fourth quarter of 2020, the first to show COVID-19 impacts. Birth rates were lower in the fourth quarter of 2020 than at any time in history in the territory that is now the United States in every age category.
My analysis of the same report for 2019, about a year ago (making deep time depth and international comparisons), is here.