NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Fertility Rates Falling in the United States

October 30, 2003

To be or not to be... a mother, that is. This is a question facing millions of women across the United States every day, and many are opting "not to be."

  • Among all women of childbearing age in the United States, 44 percent do not have children, an increase from 35 percent in 1976 according to a U.S. Census Bureau report.
  • Some 18 percent of women between the ages of 40 and 44 are child-free, a number that has almost doubled since 1976.
  • The number of childless women between 35 and 39 has also increased, from 12 percent in 1980 to 20 in 2002.

Fertility rates overall have fluctuated since the Baby Boom of the 1950s, when the rate was more than 3.5 births per woman. The 1970s was the low point for fertility rates, which plummeted to 1.8 births per woman. Over the past decade, fertility rates have wavered between 2.0 and 2.1 births per woman, just below the level required for the natural replacement of the population, about 2.1 births per woman.

Some experts say that such trends are proof that women now see motherhood as an option, not an expectation. They are choosing to focus on many other things, such as their careers, traveling, or education.

"Our feeling is if you give women education, reproductive health care options and economic opportunity, then they'll make their own decision," said Tim Cline of Population Connection, a Washington-based advocacy group for population limits. "In our studies, these options usually mean the number of children they have goes down."

Source: Allison Sherry, "Fewer Women Taking on Parenting," Denver Post, October 24, 2003; "Fertility of American Women: June 2002," P20-548, October 2003, U.S. Bureau of the Census.

For Census Bureau Study


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