U.S. News


What's Causing America's Birth Rate To Be Lower Than Ever?

Speculation behind the falling birth rate points to millennial mindsets and the cost of child care, but experts say that doesn't fully explain it.
Posted at 7:15 PM, Jun 17, 2022

Kelly Campbell always knew she didn’t want to have kids.  

"I don't have a strong drive to have children," Campbell said.

Campbell and her husband of three years live in Washington, D.C. On top of not having a maternal instinct, she says they're child-free for several reasons.

"I don't have enough resources, just energy-wise and financially and time-wise to be able to have children on the terms that I would want to if I did have them," Campbell said. "I just think the lifestyle of being a full-time working mother is too hard, and it's not something I would want.”

Campbell’s story is just one part of a larger trend happening in the U.S.: America’s birth rate is lower than it’s ever been.

Despite a small increase in 2021, there were fewer babies born last year than there were in 2019, disproving early hypotheses that quarantining might finally lead to a baby boom.

There’s a lot of speculation about what’s behind this, especially for millennials — from high student debt burdens to the rising cost of childcare and lack of paid leave.

But, experts say that doesn’t fully explain it. In fact, the latest research says there’s no data supporting the conventional theories. 

"We found that for the most part, those explanations don't really do a great job," said Phillip Levine, professor of economics at Wellsley College.

Simply put, researchers believe fewer people want to have kids since the birth rate is falling across all categories: age, race, education level, marital status and so on.   

Among the many challenges shrinking population growth poses is a less dynamic economy. Fewer workers in the labor market could mean a decline in production and competition. It's also poised to put a major tax burden on younger workers, who will have to pay for social security and other entitlements for a growing aging population. 

NEWSY'S BIANCA FACCHINEI: What’s the most likely solution to come first?

THE ASPEN INSTITUTE'S MARK POPOVICH: I wish that that there were near-term prospects for immigration reform.

The likelihood of Democrats and Republicans passing immigration reform soon enough is low, tough experts say the repercussions of a declining birth rate are already on the doorstep.

"It's no longer acceptable, in my mind, to just complain that the birth rate may have taken a blip down," Popovich said. "It's like, what are you going to do about it?”