America's fertility rate is taking baby steps upward, a new report suggests.
The total fertility rate in the USA is predicted to rise from a 25-year low of 1.89 children per woman in 2012 to 1.90 in 2013, according to the U.S. Fertility Forecast report released today by Demographic Intelligence. Preliminary official fertility estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be released in 2014; final official estimates are expected in 2015, the company says.
"The United States has seen marked declines in childbearing in the wake of the Great Recession, b ut we think that this fertility decline is now over," says Sam Sturgeon, president of Demographic Intelligence, a demographic forecasting firm in based in Charlottesville, Va. "As the economy rebounds and women have the children they postponed immediately after the Great Recession, we are seeing an uptick in U.S. fertility."
The fertility rate "says something about people's optimism for the future — their optimism about their economic circumstances," says demographer Mark Mather of the not-for-profit Population Reference Bureau in Washington, D.C.
"Historically, we've seen fertility trends move up and down with economic indicators," Mather says. "During the Great Depression, we saw fertility rates drop. We saw it again during the Great Recession.
"It is quite possible that we'll see a bump in the fertility rate since the economy is improving and people are feeling better about jobs," Mather says. "The bigger question is, 'Will that be sustained in the long run?'"
The total fertility rate is a hypothetical rate – not an actual measurement. It reflects the number of births a woman is expected to have in her lifetime if she were to experience the current age-specific fertility rate. To calculate it, Demographic Intelligence looked at statistics published by the CDC. The company's models incorporated birth data as well as past and current economic and other indicators.
The report also notes that attendance at religious services is associated with higher levels of fertility in the National Survey of Family Growth, conducted by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics.
"Much of the downturn in births is related to economic factors, but economic factors do not affect the fertility decisions of all parents or future parents," Sturgeon says. "We started to wonder about various groups that might make fertility decisions based on other factors, and religious persons seemed to be a natural group, so we explored this with the data," he adds.
Among women aged 15-44, those who attend religious services weekly or more have 1.42 children, compared with the 1.11 children of women who rarely or never attend.
Women who attend religious services weekly intend to have 2.62 children, and those who rarely or never go want to have 2.10 children.
"Partly because religious communities provide a family-friendly context to the women who attend them, religious women are more likely to have children and to bear a comparatively high share of the nation's children, compared to their less religious or secular peers," Sturgeon says.