Women Starting Fewer Families in 2017

Today’s CDC Final Birth Data for 2017 revises the Preliminary report (below): the birth rate is at a new low, but not quite as low as thought; it’s 60.3 births / 1000 (rather than 60.2), down 2%.* Here’s the revised chart:

Today’s report confirms that birth rates are falling among 15-39 year olds, and details that the trend to decline in the number of people starting families (as opposed to expanding them) is speeding up.  First births are down by 3.4% from 2016 (that rate is falling faster than the overall decline in births).**

As a result, the age at first birth has risen to a new high, at 26.8 (up from 26.6 in 2016 and 25.0 in 2007). That breaks down by race as: 24.8 for Hispanic women, 24.9 for non-Hispanic black women, 27.6 for non-Hispanic white women, and 30.3 for non-Hispanic Asian women.   See post below for discussion of why (lack of childcare support for families and improved access to birth control for teens are big factors). 

*Rather than down 3% in the provisional report.

**That’s a fall of 7.65% among 15-19 yos, 2.9% among 20-24 yos, 4.42% among 25-29 yos, 2% among 30-34 yos, and 0.85% among 35-39 yos.


What’s Pushing Births to 30-Year Low, & Rates Down among All Ages Except 40+?

What does it mean for a country when nobody (or a fast declining number) is having kids?

Most clearly it means a smaller workforce on the horizon (especially when combined with cuts to immigration), which could be good if that workforce is super-efficient and augmented by robots and computers. Not so good if you’re looking to support a big group of retirees on the social security payments of the new few, or if you want those few to provide care for the retirees or to grow the economy through ongoing purchases (which has historically included things related to family building, like diapers, kid clothes, strollers and houses).

Today the CDC reports that in 2017 the number of births fell to a 30-year low at 3,853,472, and the overall US birth rate fell by 3% since 2016, to 60.2 births per 1000 women ages 15-44.  The teen birth rate (15-19) FELL 7% since 2016.  That brings it to a total fall since 2007 of 55%.  The rates for women 20-24 and 25-29 both fell 4%, the rate for women 30-34 fell 2% breaking its pattern of rise since 2012, and the rate for women 35-39 fell 1%, after 6 years of rise since 2011.  Only women 40-44 saw a rise in rate, of 2%, to a new high of 11.6/1000.  Women 45-54 held steady at a rate of 0.9 births per 1,000 fertile women.

The current pattern of decline began with the recession in 2008, but has continued beyond that.  The usual suspects in the causal side have been: lack of a support infrastructure for families, which means people feel they can’t afford kids until later and IMPROVED birth control. More reliable birth control especially explains the drop among women in their teens and early twenties, since about 45% of US pregnancies were unintended in 2011 (58% of which ended in a birth), with women 15-24 having the highest rates of unintended pregnancies.  Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives are radically changing that dynamic.

The continued decline among young women would seem to reflect decisions to delay in order to have more time and money to invest in their own educations and career starts if they aren’t caring for kids. But the birth rates among women in their 30s were rising since the end of the recession, so why the sudden reversal there?

Is there a Trump effect — or other shock factor introduced since the end of 2016 — that might explain the swerve in the pattern in 2017?  Are women (and their partners) more worried than formerly about things like maintaining their career paths and salary trajectories (often sidetracked by kids), about the overall economy, about the lack of a social support infrastructure for women who are mothers, about seeking to include women’s voices in civic and business policy making (also often sidetracked by kids), about robots taking the jobs of tomorrow, about the threat of nuclear war, or that climate will change the human future radically for the worse? Variously strong issues individually, as a group these could be overwhelming for young people trying to plan ahead.

The NY Times ran a story yesterday on the endemic US workplace bias against mothers, urging women to start a #momstoo anti-bias movement. This movement could get a platform through the birth rate decline, which should open discussion of the pros and cons. If there’s interest among policy makers in raising the birth rates, finding ways to allow women to combine motherhood with active workforce and civic lives seems key–through programs like paid family leave; good, affordable childcare for all; pay equity for mothers; and school hours synchronous with the work day.

Another factor in the mix might be that we’re seeing people question their desire or need to have kids, which for ages (literally) have been the default effect of having sex, but are no longer.  And now that not having kids has become more socially acceptable, do families become less attractive, either per se or (again) due to the lack of social supports?  Over the years we’ll get to find out what people without kids find to do with all the time that people have historically spent with their relatives. Will it be work or play? –and will that make them more or less happy? Or are they all waiting to start families till they’re 40? Stay tuned for ongoing change.

Related letter, posted on theAtlantic.com


Low fertility rate hits the bottom line, at Toys R Us.

ToysRUs’s Baby Problem  Population by age

The effect of our lowered fertility rate is being felt at baby stores.  This week Toys R Us filed for bankruptcy, blaming the rate, and over the coming years there will be ripple effects in many other businesses. This is just one point of reckoning society will face over the decline in births — and its effect on domestic products of all kinds.

There’s a lot to talk about — including a rethinking of what people want to do with their lives (many people seem to be questioning whether they want or need kids), how the population impacts our planet and resources, what jobs remain for humans after the robot revolution, what new jobs and activities we invent to put all our know how to best use, whether and at what rate (and by what means) older childless people decide to bear in their later lives, etc.

Stay tuned for an ongoing debate.

**Though the Washington Post story emphasizes the demographics behind the closure, others emphasize that the company was badly affected by its takeover by private equity firms Bain Capital, KKR and Vornado Realty Trust, which “loaded up the chain with $6.6 billion in debt,” per the American Prospect.


Are Women Full Citizens?: The Abortion Debate and the “Gifts” of Life and Poverty

Here’s a link to a new essay I was invited to contribute to an issue of NANO on Gift Economies. It explores the role that fertility plays in the way/s that women can participate in policy making in all levels of society (past and present). What do you think?

This essay explores fertility’s impact on economics and the gendered relations of power among humans in patriarchy. By definition, patriarchs rule through fertility—their status depends upon the exclusion of women from policymaking by means of childbearing. When forced to bear and rear early, women receive limited education and have neither skills nor time to object. The availability of birth control and abortion transforms this situation. This essay argues that anti-reproductive-choice arguments based on the premise that an unborn potential child has received an individual “gift of life” which it is the mother’s duty to host occlude the way that the arrival at maturity of human lives depends on the ongoing gift of parents’ (principally mothers’) time and energy. When this “gift” is coerced, it blocks the innovative participation and skills development of huge portions of the population and may cause the impoverishment of the family, including parents, older children and other relatives, into which the new child arrives.

ARE WOMEN FULL CITIZENS? The Abortion Debate and the “Gifts” of Life and Poverty

Humans exist in network, interdepending mutually, parts of a social and physical ecology in which what one does affects what others may or may not do. Humans depend upon the circulation of what may be called gifts from the earth, which provide physical sustenance, and from the cultures in which they are raised, which provide them with language and the storehouse of human technology and skills. Caregivers provide young humans with time, nourishment, and knowledge that are essential to their development and which may also be viewed as gifts (the term caregiver implies it). Adults and children both receive framework gifts from their cultures, including shared narratives (providing a sense of meaning and direction), and infrastructure (like roads and market systems). All humans then support others with ongoing cultural gifts of knowledge, technology and materials that pass through them and circulate back to others. All gifts are embedded in social and physical contexts, never the independent contribution of one individual to another. … MORE


Highest Birth Rate Now 30-34 / Ripple Effects of Delay / Birth Rates Still Falling

This year, the annual CDC birth data update again generates a post very like the one last year and several years prior. See parts 2 & 3 of this post’s title. And this year for the first time, as the title’s first part suggests, the birth rate for women aged 30-34 surpassed that for women 25-29, as a result of the ongoing rise since 2012 of births to all women 30 and over and of the ongoing fall (since 2007) in births to all women 29 and under, especially teenagers (down by halffrom 41.5 births per 1,000 women aged 15-44 in 2007 to 20.3 in 2016!).

Rates to women 35-39 began to rise in 2011, and rates to women 40 and up never fell and continue to rise. When the recession hit and birth rates to young women plummeted, it was predictable that eventually at least some of those women would start having kids–and, inevitably, they would be older at that point.  That’s the ripple effect of delay, on display in the chart below. 



About 10 years after the rates began plummeting among the young, we are now seeing a rising tide of births to the women (and men) who delayed.  Stay tuned until later in the year for a full report on how many of these women are having first births, at what ages.  The average age at first birth is rising – but the specifics are not yet out (it was 26.4 (Table I-1) in 2015, so is likely not suddenly “around 28” as suggested by Bloomberg and Slate — the 2015 average age for all births was 28.5).

This year we have Beyoncé (35) and Amal Clooney (39) as poster women: both later mothers having twins.


Related stories: ATTN.com  (“Women Are Changing American Birth Rates in a Totally Unprecedented Way”)

& Slate.com (“For the First Time Ever, Thirty-Something Women Are Having More Babies Than Their Twenty-Something Counterparts”)

Bloomberg (“Women in 30s Now Having More Babies Than Younger Moms in U.S.”)

NB: The Bloomberg and Slate titles are misleading.  Only the birthrate for women 30-34 (102.6) has surpassed the rate for women 25-29 (101.9) (still noteworthy!).  But women 20-24 still have a higher rate (73.7 and falling) than women 35-39 (52.6 and rising), and without data on how many women there are in each age sector, you can’t tell who is having more babies accurately.


Maclean’s piece on my School / Work Synchrony project


By Meagan Campbell
Madness peaks on Wednesday at 7 a.m. Each March, when the City of Toronto opens registration for summer camps, parents go wild to secure their children’s spots. The city shuts down its call centres from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. to prevent early attempts, and it staggers registration across the region to keep the website from crashing. “There’s a reason I’ve only got one son,” says Erin Filby, mother in downtown Toronto of eight-year-old Teddy. If she delays, Teddy might still get into piano or French camp, but if he wants to spend July riding a BMX bike or growing sprouts in High Park, his mother better have Toronto Rec on speed dial.

The rush is less a testament to the fun of summer camps than it is to parental desperation. The selection of camps swells each year—in the districts of the Greater Toronto Area, the so-called “FUN Guides” now list a combined 57-pages of camps —in part because the programs are the only affordable summer child-care option for many dual-income families. What children consider eight weeks of splash pads can mean months of un-fun planning for parents, who can spend more than $300 per child per week even for subsidized programming.

No surprise, then, that the release each spring of municipalities’ summer camp brochures is met with increasing debate between parents, teachers and governments about changing the school calendar. While some school districts have shortened their summers, and while full-day kindergarten in some provinces lightens childcare needs the rest of the year, critics argue that it’s time for radical change.

“This is the way they did it in the 1850s, and they still do it, when it makes no sense,” says Elizabeth Gregory, director of the women’s and gender studies program at the University of Houston. Gregory is writing a book arguing that a “rational school calendar” would help the economy, improve gender equality in the workforce and boost the birthrate. Her working title: “School/Work: How Synchrony Could Save the Future.”

Summer school, Gregory argues, should be public. Schools should hire different teachers for July and August, she says, and spend the warmest months doing sports and art with students, with the option for parents to pull them out if they wish. Currently, the closest such system is the “balanced calendar” approach adopted by about 100 schools in Canada, most of them in B.C. These schools spread vacation days over the winter and reduce the summer break to six weeks, meaning less planning for parents and less concern that children will forget their times-tables.

But chopping two weeks off the summer has drawn pushback from teachers—and from tourism interests, who warn that rescheduling vacations to winter would push Canadians to travel south, rather than within Canada. What’s more, the industry depends on high school students working summer jobs. “If you take some of those kids out of the workforce because they have to go back to school, that really impacts tourism operators,” says Walt Judas, president of the Tourism Industry Association of British Columbia.

Summers aside, Gregory also calls for governments to extend the school day to 5 p.m. In her proposal, teachers would cover curricula between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., while more teachers would be hired to supervise off-hour music, art and sports for students whose parents opt for extra care. But more school is pricey; Ontario’s full-day kindergarten, which finished rolling out in 2014, costs $1.5 billion per year, while Newfoundland is currently spending $30 million to build classrooms to implement the system.

Even day care should be public, Gregory argues. “If the States or Canada said, ‘We’re going to extend public education down to [age] zero or one or two,’ you’d see a baby boom,” she says. Quebec’s universal low-fee day-care program, which began in 1997, has led to more women joining the workforce and encourages them to start bigger families, according to Pierre Fortin, an economics professor at Université de Montreal. “A dollar invested in preschool education,” he says, “has a higher return than an investment in any other year of education.” Filby, the Toronto mom, says free child care would directly lead her to have more kids. “I’m one of three children,” she says. “That seems like the perfect number to me. [But] I simply couldn’t afford it.”

Still, many parents worry about the “schoolification” of children, whom they fear already spend too much time in classrooms. “You’d want to be sure kids have time to decompress,” says Carolyn Ferns, president of the Ontario Coalition for Better Childcare. “After a school day, they want to be doing something different … they need to not just let energy out but just relax.”

Gregory argues her proposal wouldn’t “schoolify” kids because they would do camp-like activities in the summer months, at which point parents could pull them out for vacations as desired. During the regular year, if kids chose to finish homework in the after school hours, “you wouldn’t have to be fussing with your family when you got home. You’d have actual family time.”

Her plan, she asserts, is possible. Women don’t need to “lean in” at work; rather, she says they need to lean on governments and businesses to get on board. When she tells parents about her proposed calendar, she says, their reaction is unequivocal: “Yes, please. When does that start?”


Who’s the Bogeyman? SB6

Houston Chronicle

Yes, Texas, there are bogeymen in the bathroom lately. But they don’t aim to rape you, just to rob you blind. In fact, they’ve been doing that for years, and they don’t discriminate by gender or sex, just income. If you’re rich, they hand you tax breaks; if you’re middle- or working-class, they steal your services and infrastructure to pay for the tax breaks for the rich. They throw in some homeowner tax benefits, but those are undercut by the loss of basic community services. To cloak their perfidy, they concoct imaginary monsters and distract us with offers of “protection,” as with Senate Bill 6, which its sponsors say aims to “protect” women and children. But the Legislature is the real threat to our well-being, and the well-being of our families.

The great state of Texas comes in 40th among states in national education rankings in 2017. Although our children – our state’s future – are full of potential, the Legislature underinvests in schools and funds them inequitably. This failure connects directly to our shameful claim to the seventh-highest per-capita imprisonment rate. Our Legislature apparently prefers the pay-later approach, over investing now.

Gov. Greg Abbott’s rejection of federal funding to expand Medicaid sent federal tax dollars paid by Texans to other states, and it means that Texas has the lowest rate of insured people in the U.S. This underpins the recent doubling of our maternal death rate, to third-world levels, and it means Texans suffer and die from ailments that could have been prevented. That’s no imaginary horror. For many Texas families, the bogeyman that has robbed them of basic health services is quite real. So is the loss of reproductive services because of the Legislature’s unrelenting assault via restrictive policies and laws that have reduced health-care access for women, especially poor women.

Our child-welfare system is horribly broken (though, fingers crossed that an overhaul may occur). And while we have strict laws against human trafficking, our state offers few services to sex-trafficking victims, nor do we systematically punish the “johns” who exploit them. Last year, Texas officials cut needed special-ed funds. Mental health services are woefully underfunded. The short of it: The state’s social safety net is full of holes. Even if state residents don’t use some of these services directly, a solid safety net protects the whole community, and this is what needs the Legislature’s attention.

So while lawmakers dither or altogether ignore our state’s most vital needs, we get distractions like the bathroom bill that Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, is pitching and which has been endorsed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. This bill actively attacks transgender people – denying them the basic right to use a public restroom and opening them to harassment by a newly appointed gender police. Empowered busybodies could demand birth certificates from people in line for the toilet. Who is the bogeyman in this scenario? They won’t limit their intrusions to trans-people – if they don’t like your haircut or your fashion choices, expect nasty questions.

It should matter that there has not been a single report of transgender people attacking cis-women inside or outside restrooms (and if they or anyone did that, the act already is illegal). But 27 transgender people were murdered in 2016, and many more were attacked and harassed just for being themselves. We do have real gender issues in our community, but bathroom bogeymen isn’t one.

Texas business leaders know that Kolkhorst’s and Patrick’s scare tactic will discourage new businesses from coming to our state, and they firmly oppose the bill. This pro-discrimination bill copycats the controversial North Carolina bill, but it has a homegrown pedigree. Houston voters’ revocation of the Equal Rights Ordinance in 2015 put this issue on the national stage – with the aim of denying state protection to the LGBT community in jobs and housing, and forcing any one who wants to bring a discrimination suit (including vets and people of color) into the more-difficult-to-navigate federal court.

Under pressure from loss of business, North Carolina is working to repeal its bathroom law. Why would Texas pursue the same outcomes? Only if voters, convinced by Kolkhorst’s and Patrick’s smoke and mirrors that they are under threat of bathroom bogeymen, press their representatives to endorse it.

The truly scary stuff isn’t fake bogeymen, but the real outcomes of our Legislature’s mismanagement. That underfunding of public education? It ultimately will slow and turn backward growth of our state’s economy. The stubborn refusal to expand Medicaid? Preventable disease and death will mark immeasurable loss of our state’s human potential. Methodical erosion of women’s reproductive rights? More abortions and more maternal deaths.

We don’t need SB 6. We don’t need our restroom choices policed. It’s clear who the bogeymen are, and they’re not in bathrooms. Legislature, we’re looking at you.

A version of this piece appeared in the Houston Chronicle on March 4, 2017.