US Fertility Rates

The latest Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) report recording fertility rates in the US shows that rates have reached an all time low -- 62.0 births in 1,000 women of childbearing age. But is this really the lowest? A recent article from the Pew Research Center lays out three most common ways to measure fertility: the general fertility rate (GFR), completed fertility, and total fertility rate (TFR). All three ways measure fertility behavior within the US, but look at annual rates that women are currently having kids, the number of kids ultimately born, and hypothetical number of kids women would have based on present fertility patterns, respectively.

From the 1950s to 2016, each method concluded different years to be all-time lows of US fertility rates: the GFR indicated 2016, while completed fertility indicated 2006, and TFR indicated 1976.

The latest report from the National Center for Health Statistics used the GFR, concluding that for every 1,000 women between ages 15-44, there were 62 births. The GFR is not affected by overall population size, as well as population changes within the 15-44 age demographic; however, it is affected by changes in at what age women have their babies. The recent economic downturn is said to have played a part in a decline in birth rates among women under 30 as well.

The second measure, completed fertility, counts the number of total births given by a woman in her lifetime -- assuming women have done so by age 44. Compared to other methods, completed fertility is more retrospective, and starts with data from 1976. According to complete fertility rates, the low point was in 2006, with women near the end of peak childbearing years (ages 15-44) having an average of 1.86 kids.

The third measure, total fertility rate, is a hypothetical measure based on fertility information from one point in time to predict the number of children a woman would have in her lifetime. Utilizing “age standardization,” this data is unaffected by the age makeup of women. TFR is important in estimating fertility levels necessary for a country’s population to reproduce, not taking into account immigration or emigration. Due to recent trends in postponing childbirth, the TFR may be underestimating the rates.

All methods are valid, but use different ways of measuring fertility rates. The current GFR and TFR show similar trends, reflecting the heightened fertility during the Baby Boom and the rise before and subsequent decline after the economic recession of 2007. Completed fertility has risen slightly since 2006, but other measures have continued to drop.

Sophia Kim

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