Home Money U.S. birth rates drop 2% as economy, career gets in women’s way

U.S. birth rates drop 2% as economy, career gets in women’s way

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U.S. birth rates drop 2% as economy, career gets in women’s way

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The economy is hitting younger generations—hard. Millennials and Gen Zers face sky-high mortgage rates, soaring home prices and inflation, and it’s slowing some traditional, or otherwise historic, milestones like having a child. 

Indeed, women are starting families later and having fewer children—with some forgoing starting a family altogether, according to a report released Thursday by the National Center for Health Statistics within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the most staggering statistic in the report is that the U.S. total fertility rate hit a record low in 2023, falling to 1.62 births per woman. That’s well below the “replacement rate,” or the number of births needed to meet the number of older generations, of 2.1 births.

“For the first time in our nation’s history, a 30-year-old man or woman isn’t doing as well as his or her parents were at 30. That is the social compact breaking down,” Scott Galloway, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, said in a recent interview with Morning Joe. Only 27% of adults ages 30-to-34 have one child, he said, but in 1990 that percentage was 60%. 

“People are opting out of America,” Galloway said. “They’re not optimistic about it. They’re not having kids.” Indeed, the National Center for Health Statistics report showed that birth rates declined for women aged 15 through 39. Overall, there were about 3.59 million births in the U.S. in 2023, down 2% from 2022, according to the report. 

What’s more, birth rates are declining at an even faster rate for minority women. General fertility declined 5% for Black women as well as American Indian and Alaska Native women and 3% for Asian women, according to the report. That’s largely driven by rising morbidity and mortality rates for women of color, Peggy Roberts, a board-certified women’s health nurse practitioner licensed in New York, tells Fortune.

These trends “instill a sense of apprehension among women regarding the risks linked with pregnancy and childbirth,” she says. “Consequently, women are opting to forgo the prospect of having children.”

Why are fewer women having children?

There are a number of factors affecting the declining birth rate, but personal finance and career choices continue to be top-of-mind for women in the years traditionally committed to having children. Many women are delaying having children into their late 30s and 40s to get ahead in their career. 

That’s especially true for some of the most successful women in business, including Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo. While Nooyi undoubtedly had an illustrious career, she always felt guilty about balancing the care of her two daughters and work, she told Fortune at the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival. 

“The biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with each other,” she said. Plus, women reach their peak earning years in their 40s, and the prime employment age for women continues to rise, according to a 2023 report from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

A woman’s 30s and 40s are traditionally dedicated to career development, but that timeframe also overlaps with when they’re expected to have children, Nooyi said. Kids become teenages as their mothers are promoted to middle management, and “that’s the time your husband becomes a teenager,” she joked. Plus, as children grow older, that’s also the time a mother’s aging parents need care, too.

“We’re screwed,” she said. “We cannot have it all.”

More women are “vocalizing their choice to remain childless”to pursue higher education, said RobertsPlus, “women express concerns about the lack of available partners for forming long-term relationships and starting families.”

The birth rate has also been affected by an increased awareness of contraception, Janet Choi, a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist and chief medical officer at fertility care provider Progyny, tells Fortune. More women now have access to contraception and use it. “This can be especially said of long-acting reversible contraceptives in recent years,” she says.

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