Why American Women Are Having Fewer Children

Views on U.S. Falling Birthrate
Pregnant woman with face mask standing in front of window. (Getty)

Last week, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared that the US birthrate had fallen four percent last year, compared to the year before, and that was the sixth consecutive yearly drop. Whereas expectations were that the spread of Coronavirus starting early last year together with official orders to lessen the spread by staying at home would have increased sexual activities, pregnancy and childbirth, that didn’t happen.

Actually, before the virus, American women were having fewer children and having them later in life, or not having children at all. The newly released data indicated a sharpening of that trend. The U.S. birthrate fell across races, ethnicity and almost all age groups.

Roughly 3.6 million babies were born in the United States in 2020, a decline from about 3.75 million in 2019.

These are excerpts from various opinions about the subject, as published on their websites, or as told to reporters:

1. Philip Cohen, sociology professor at the University of Maryland.

2. Phillip Levine, economics professor at Wellesley College.

3. Niki Akhaveissy, a lawyer in Dallas, TX, who argued about not having a child.


Philip Cohen: “Less Sex”

“The birthrate had fallen to 1.73 births per woman, after peaking in 1957 at 3.77 births per woman. It dipped in 1980, increased slightly a decade later and has since continued on a steady decline. It’s a shock but not a change in direction a since there has been a continuous decline in birthrates since 2007 …

Some of the things that might be driving down birthrates in the long run such as economic insecurity, the cost of health care, housing, child care and education, and our awful work-family policies, are probably things that were exacerbated in the last year.

By disrupting American society in so many ways, the pandemic led some people to hold off on plans, with the prospect of children more daunting in the face of job losses, closed child-care centers and schools and social isolation. At the beginning of the pandemic, the impact of the coronavirus on pregnant women was not yet known …

It also slowed down the social metabolism, so there was less social interaction, and that means less sex, less coupling and marriage and pregnancies.  I’m sure there is both a conscious and unconscious element to this, and we just don’t have enough data yet to know for sure what the balance is …”

Phillip Levine: “Like in 1918”

“The data confirms there were nearly 40,000 “missing births” in the final six weeks of 2020, reflecting the absence of babies that would have otherwise been conceived in the early months of the pandemic.  Data from 2021 will reflect more of the pandemic’s effects; the 1918 flu pandemic led to similar dips in fertility.

But any declines caused by the coronavirus pandemic are negligible compared with the overall direction of the country’s fertility rate …

Let’s say Covid-19 reduces births by a few hundred thousand but, in a country of 330 million, that just is not that big of a deal if it’s just a one-shot thing.

But the fact that the United States now has around 700,000 fewer births annually than it did in 2007 is much more significant.

These are magnitudes that sort of rival the baby boom, kind of the opposite of the baby boom, and we know that the baby boom had a huge effect, on economics, on culture, on politics, on just about everything you can think of … Losing that many people, it would be difficult to imagine that doesn’t have a large effect in a broad array of dimensions …

Last year’s downturn was most significant among teenagers, continuing a long decline in birthrates for that group, as well as for women between 35 and 44, an age group in which births had been increasing since 2007.

Older women would be a prime target because having a second or third child would be harder in last year’s environment …”

Niki Akhaveissy: “No child”

“Before the pandemic, I had planned to have my first child by the time I turned 30, assuming I would find a partner by then.

But the past year has revised that timeline completely … I struggled with my mental health amid the shutdowns, leading me to wonder how I might deal with postpartum depression.

I watched friends lose their jobs, and co-workers struggle to balance paid work and child care. And I began to question how I would take care of a baby with only the four weeks paid leave allowed …

So, two months ago, I got an intrauterine device, or IUD, inserted to prevent pregnancy.  Now, the only thing I am certain of is that I am not planning to have a child anytime soon …

At this point, I don’t even know if I want to have my first child by 35. The more I think about it, it’s just not financially feasible for me to have a child at all, right now.

I used to ask my friends with children to tell me honestly what it was like to be a parent. They were always straightforward about the ups and downs.  But during the past year, those conversations reached new emotional depths, with my female friends often sobbing as they struggled between choosing their jobs or their families.

I had friends break down and cry on the phone because they felt like this was endless, this was interminable, and too much was being asked of them but there was no one to help …”