it comes as something of a shock to discover that in 2011 America’s fertility rate was below replacement level, and below that of some large European countries (see chart). The American rate is now 1.9 and falling. France’s is 2.0 and stable. The rate in England and Wales is just below 2.0 and rising slightly. (via America and Europe: Virility symbols | The Economist)
- American fertility reached its recent peak in 2007; its fall has coincided with the economic crisis that began a year later. Recession seems to have reduced fertility through at least two channels. First, migrants often cannot find work and go back home. Since they tend to have slightly larger families than native-born citizens, this reduces fertility. It has happened in Spain in the past two years and may be happening in America.
- Second, losses of income, compounded by the housing crisis, causes young people to postpone marriage, the setting up of new homes, and children. In 2011, the Pew Research Centre, a polling organisation, asked 18 to 24 year-old Americans about their reaction to recession: 22% said they had postponed having a baby and 20% said they had postponed marriage as a result. This reaction is evident in Europe, too, but the response seems to have been sharper in America.
- Carl Haub, a demographer at the Population Reference Bureau, a think-tank in Washington DC, argues that American fertility has proved resilient in the past and could bounce back. Indeed, it may already have begun to do so. The number of births fell by almost 124,000 in 2010 but only 46,000 in 2011. It is also true that fertility fell in most European countries in 2008-11, while Mediterranean and Eastern European countries all have TFRs well below America’s. Still, the fact remains that France’s fertility is now higher than America’s and the demographic reaction to the great recession does not suggest any profound transatlantic difference between virile Americans and flaccid Europeans.