New data released by the Pew Research Center has shown that the American birth rate dropped 8% between 2007 and 2010, putting the 2010 birth rate at its lowest level since 1920, the first year that we were even keeping track of this sort of thing. Guess this means that my Facebook friends are the last people in this country reproducing successfully.
The data shows more than just the fact that American uteruses taking it easy; some groups of women are scaling back the childbearing much more dramatically than others. The survey found that that the birth rate for American-born mothers dropped 6%, while foreign-born women's dropped 14%. But the biggest drop in birth rate came among Mexican-born women — in the span of only a few years, their birth rate dropped 23%. So much for the embarrassing myth of the anchor baby.
America's birth rate peaked in the late 1950's, when more than 120 of every 1,000 women of childbearing age gave birth. Now, it's about half that rate.
All of this comes in conjunction with new data from the CDC that shows that abortions are at their lowest levels in decades, dropping 5% during the recession. So what gives? Are women — especially non-US-born women — having less sex? Or are they simply able to access more affordable contraception? Because it appears that it's not just that women aren't having babies; they're not getting pregnant in the first place. Analysts theorize that birth control and emergency contraception are certainly helping women of all stripes to more actively control the size of their families, and they say that the realities of the recession are to blame for this change in behavior. One El Salvadoran woman with whom they spoke pointed to her stomach as she discussed having her tubes tied and remarked "the factory is closed."
But this isn't great news on all fronts (WHAT ABOUT THE FACTORY WORKERS?!). The Washington Post points out that America has kind of always relied on the high birth rates of immigrant populations in order to supply older, more established Americans with labor and ensuing tax revenue that supports programs like Social Security and Medicare. All those xenophobic oldsters in Arizona gated communities who want to keep the Mexicans out with a giant spiked fence? They're kind of SOL without the immigrants they hate so much.
While the declining U.S. birth rate has not yet created the stark imbalances in graying countries such as Japan or Italy, it should serve as a wake-up call for policymakers, said Roberto Suro, a professor of public policy at the University of Southern California.
"We've been assuming that when the baby boomer population gets most expensive, that there are going to be immigrants and their children who are going to be paying into [programs for the elderly], but in the wake of what's happened in the last five years, we have to reexamine those assumptions," he said. "When you think of things like the solvency of Social Security, for example . . . relatively small increases in the dependency ratio can have a huge effect."
While policymakers now have a new, not-enough-babies problem on their hands, the important takeaway from all of is is that from now on, we should refer to that whole internal lady pelvic appliance as "the factory."