- Birth rates are at an all-time low in the United States, with just 59.1 births for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44 in 2018, according to new data from the National Vital Statistics System.
- Experts worry this could eventually result in a “demographic time bomb,” where fertility rates decrease at the same time longevity increases.
- Demographic time bombs are particularly bad for a country’s economy because it decreases the workforce as well as the number of people able to stimulate the economy.
- A gynecologist says misinformation about fertility treatments may be to blame, but the trend represents some positive societal shifts, like a decrease in teenage pregnancies.
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Fewer and fewer American women are giving birth, and that could become a huge problem for the United States.
New data from the National Vital Statistics System found that, as of 2018, the birth rate in the United States has reached an all-time low, with 59.1 births for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44. In 2017, the rate was 60.3 births for every 1,000 women in that age range.
Experts fear this decline could make the United States a demographic time bomb, a phenomenon where fertility rates decrease while life expectancy increases. If this trend continues, there won’t be enough young people to support both the economy and people in older generations who continue to live longer and longer.
At its most extreme, demographic time bombs could lead to the eventual extinction of a country’s population, researchers say.
According to gynecologist Dr. Eve Feinberg, the record-low birth rate in the United States is largely due to women waiting to get pregnant later in life and the lack of information about how fertility works.
“People overestimate the success of fertility treatment,” Dr. Feinberg told INSIDER. “While it is successful, it has limitations at older ages.”
An increasing number of women are delaying when they get pregnant
On average, American women are having their first child at an older age than they once did.
A 2018 report from the National Vital Statistics System found that, between 2007 and 2017, the age women first gave birth increased by 1.3 years in rural counties, 1.5 years in small or medium counties, and 1.8 years in large metro counties.
Overall, the average first-birth age for women was 23.2 years old in 2007, which then increased to 24.5 years in 2017. As more women put off their first pregnancy, that could have unintended yet serious implications.
“We’re seeing more infertility with first-child and second-child pregnancies,” Dr. Feinberg said.
Dr. Feinberg believes this infertility issue stems from an over-reliance in fertility treatments like in-vitro fertilization, where a woman’s egg and a man’s sperm are removed from their bodies so the egg can be fertilised in a lab.
Women who delay pregnancy may assume the availability of IVF or other fertility options means they will have no trouble getting pregnant when they’re ready, but that’s not the case.
“While IVF is successful, it has limitations at older ages,” Dr. Feinberg said, adding that “IVF isn’t really useful after the age of 44.”
She added that she believes Hollywood does a disservice to women viewers who believe they can put off pregnancy as long as celebrities do. In reality, “most of those babies are made with a donor egg,” Dr. Feinberg said.
Egg freezing could help, but more education about the process is needed
Rather than put the focus on IVF, Dr. Feinberg said more women should be educated about and consider freezing their eggs, a process that involves retrieving eggs from a woman’s uterus when she’s fertile but not ready for pregnancy, and then freezing those eggs for future use. (The process also involves hormone injections, tens of thousands of dollars, time, and discomfort.)
Right now, Dr. Feinberg’s average egg-freezing patient is about 38 years old, but the ideal age to freeze eggs by is 35, when female fertility starts to naturally decline. Unfortunately, the lack of education about fertility preservation options means many women don’t learn about their options until they’re past their egg-freezing prime.
“Younger patients don’t want to think about it and older maybe think about it when it’s too late,” Dr. Feinberg said. “If more women freeze eggs and freeze a lot at a young age, that could be a game changer.”
Still, egg freezing isn’t a pregnancy guarantee either. In fact, there’s just a 2% to 12% chance for a frozen egg to create a baby, even if it was frozen from a woman under 38 years old, according to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine.
One positive is the decrease in teen pregnancies
Although the record-low birth rate has the potential to create serious societal problems down the line, there is one important positive to the decline in births: It reflects that there are fewer teen pregnancies.
In women between the ages of 15 and 19, the birth rate decreased 7% from 2017 to 2018. In 2017, there were 18.8 births per 1,000 women, while in 2018, there were 17.4 births per 1,000 women.
The decrease in births also signals a rise in reproductive autonomy for women, who are more likely to feel parenthood is a choice, not an obligation, these days.
“Our sole purpose in life as women is not to bear children, so the rise in education and availability of good contraceptives are all very progressive for women,” Dr. Feinberg said.