Historic Drop in US Fertility Rates Except Among Churchgoers

Provisional figures just released from the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics found that the U.S. fertility rate has hit an all-time low of 1.7 with only churchgoing Americans defying the downward trend.

Aleteia is reporting on the latest numbers which found fewer than 3.8 million children born in 2018, bringing the fertility rate to a record-setting 1.7, which is far below the replacement level of 2.1. With causes ranging from increased used of long-term contraceptives to women delaying childbirth until after college, only one demographic appeared to be bucking the trend – churchgoers.

“The causes of lower fertility are incredibly complicated, and there is no obvious or simple mechanism for moving those numbers in the other direction,” said Jonathan V. Last, author of What to Expect When No One’s Expecting.

However, the most consistent pattern of higher fertility rates were found among churchgoers. People who attended church weekly tended to have more children.

“I think a big part of this is looking at your life as part of a linear continuum, understanding your place between what has come before and what will come after helps condition you to understanding the greater good of starting a family and having children,” Last explained to CNA.

“If your worldview is primarily formed around personal fulfillment and self-actualization, where is the incentive to have a family? You might have one child for the experience, but not two or three or four.”

The report also found that for the first time ever, women in their early thirties are having more children than women in their 20’s. This is due to the fact that more people are attending college and are less likely to start families while they’re in school. As a result, the average age of a first-time mother increased by more than five years. In 1968, it was 21.4 years. In 2018, that number jumped to 26.8.

Changes in the use of contraception are also believe to be a factor. Dr. Catherine Pakaluk, Assistant Professor of Social Research and Economic Thought at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that more women are opting to use long-term contraceptives such as IUDs rather than the pill.

“These long-acting contraceptives tend to be much more immune to behavioral screw-ups. Even with the pill people are prone to contracepting badly and have a higher error rate leading to accidental but not necessarily unwelcome births, and these are disappearing,” she said.

“It’s not a negligible percent, I don’t think it is the whole story but I do think it could be enough to be dragging us down to the historic lows we are seeing.”

Another reason is that as more children grow up in smaller families, they have less exposure to babies.

“If you live in a society in which the typical family has three or four children, the older children will be experiencing a young child into their teenage years. But if you move to an average of 1.5-2, no teenagers on average will live with babies – think what that means for their own likely fertility choices,” she added.

While many see lower birth rates as an answer to environmental concerns, the economic impact of such low birth rates on social programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, will be devastating.

“ . . . [Y]ou just cannot sustain them in the long run with a total fertility rate of 1.7,” Pakaluk said.

Both Pakaluk and Last agree that the drop in fertility rates also reveals a widespread dissatisfaction at the personal level.

“What we do know, which is not often raised in media coverage, is that over the last several decades every survey in a Western country that asks women to describe their ideal family size – every single one everywhere – gives you a number about one child more than women end up having,” Pakaluk said.

This suggests that as our national fertility rates decline, so does our satisfaction with what has become an individualistic, consumerist lifestyle. We can only hope that all of those churchgoing Americans who are finding their satisfaction in living according to the laws of God and nature will encourage their disenchanted neighbors to do the same – for the good of all.

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