- By Elizabeth F. RalphElizabeth Ralph is a researcher at Foreign Policy.
It seems babies (or the lack thereof) are on everyone’s mind these days — not just at Foreign Policy. While the United States may not have made this list of countries with the lowest fertility rates in the world, it may not be that far from the threshold.
The United States’ total fertility rate, or TFR, which is measured as the average number of children that would be born to a woman if she lived to the end of her childbearing years and bore children according to given age-specific fertility rates, hit a record low in 2011. American women now have fewer children than their British and French counterparts, and half as many as they did during the baby boom.
According to a recent New York Times article (printed on the front page on Jan. 1), the decline is largely due to the fact that Hispanic women (both immigrant and native-born), who have traditional had the most children in the country, are having fewer and fewer kids each year. CBS.com cites a Pew Research Center study: "Since 2007, the birth rate for U.S.-born women fell by 6 percent, and the rate for foreign-born women dropped 14 percent. For Mexican immigrants, the birth rate fell by a staggering 23 percent."
No doubt the sluggish economy has played a role in the fertility decline (Latinos have been hit particularly hard by the recession). But, the economy doesn’t completely explain the accelerated decline amongst Hispanic women (compared to non-Hispanic whites, blacks and Asians), and why the decline has remained so persistent for so long.
The New York Times suggests that the TFR is declining as young Latinos are increasingly choosing to pursue education and careers rather than to have large families. This generation is also less strictly Catholic than their parents and grandparents were. They are educated about contraceptives, they use them (when they can afford them), and they think having one or two children is just fine.
Also, as another piece in the new issue of FP argues, a country having fewer babies is not necessarily a bad thing in the long run.