Colleen Sharkey | February 9, 2019
The U.S. birth rate has been decreasing for the last decade, reaching a historic low in 2017. New research from a team of economists suggests that much of this decline is due to reductions in unintended births.
Kasey Buckles, Brian and Jeannelle Brady Associate Professor of economics at the University of Notre Dame, and her co-authors, Melanie Guldi at the University of Central Florida and Lucie Schmidt at Williams College, found that the number of births that were likely unintended has fallen 16 percent since 2007. This drop accounts for more than a third of the overall decline in births in the U.S. over that period, and is driven by declines in births to young women.
“The decline in birth rates since 2007 was driven by women under age 30; for women over 30, birth rates actually increased over this period,” the authors wrote in a working paper released by the National Bureau of Economic Research. “The birth rate for unmarried women has also been falling, while that for married women has increased.” The data show that 1 in 5 women born in 1976 had a non-marital birth as a teenager. That figure dropped to 1 in 13 for women born in the late 1990s.
Importantly, the groups that have seen the largest declines in fertility in recent years — young women and unmarried women — are the groups that have historically been most likely to have unintended births. In fact, Buckles and her colleagues found that 35 percent of the overall fertility decline of the last 10 years can be explained by fewer births to women whose children were likely to be unintended, and specifically by declines in births to young women.
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