Why Are Fertility Rates Dropping In the US? It Could Spell Economic Trouble

Birth rates in the United States continued to decline in the first quarter of 2016, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ABC News has reported that less than six babies are born for every 100 women aged 15-44, which is a new low. But why fertility rates are dropping in the U.S. isn't entirely clear, although looking at birth rate trends by maternal age could provide a clue. While the rates have fallen for women under 30, fertility rates for older mothers have actually increased, which, according to Harvard researcher Mary Brinton, could possibly be spurred by changing attitudes towards women's societal roles.

According to the Pew Research Center, in 1976, 40 percent of mothers ages 40 to 44 had four or more children. By 2014, most moms had just two kids. Women with higher education are also having fewer children. This could all be related; as more women enter the workforce, they're delaying having children and are effectively cutting their childbearing years short. It's also much more expensive for working mothers to have multiple children in day care than it is for a woman who doesn't work outside the home to take care of her own large family.

And that's the women who choose to have kids at all. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of women who choose not to have children is also on the rise. Some choose not to because they'd rather focus on their careers, but there are many varied reasons why a woman might choose not to breed, and thanks to better access to birth control and again, those changing societal expectations, it's becoming an increasingly more viable option for those who don't feel that motherhood is their endgame. Yay for feminism! No longer will women be shackled to a stove, surrounded by a screeching brood! We can be anything we want!

Except, that's kind of a problem. Decreasing the population on this crowded planet may sound like a good thing, but fewer people means fewer workers, which in turn means less tax revenue. As each generation retires, there's less funding available to take care of them. According to San Jose's Mercury News, when the Medicare program was initiated in 1965, there were 4.6 tax-paying workers for every beneficiary. By 2015, that number had dropped to 3.1, and it's expected to be just 2.3 by 2030. But of course, there would be myriad issues caused by a population surge, as well. There's really no good answer to how many children a woman should have, but thankfully, it's up to her.