A Rapid Decline

Considering the Future of Marriage and Childbearing in America

According to a recent report from the CDC, the birth rate in the United States has fallen for the fifth year in a row, marking the lowest rate in 35 years.[1] The number of babies being born is currently insufficient to replace the existing population, and experts are speculating on a number of factors that could be contributing to such a major decline.

While according to the report, births declined in most age groups, the study found that women in their forties are actually having more children, indicating that those in the younger demographics are putting off marriage and childbearing “until later.” And this has much credibility. Women are being encouraged to pursue their careers in their twenties and postpone marriage and family, unlike former generations, when having kids was the number one priority. However, it is vital to examine another factor in the declining rates of marriage and childbearing: the state of the economy.

After the recession in 2008, many Americans lacked a sense of economic security and thus naturally concluded that marriage and children meant financial depletion and constraint. The data backs this up. In 2018, a decade after the recession, the birth rate was the lowest it had been since 1900. Particularly millennials are contending with a competitive job market, urbanizing environments, and a much higher cost of living than other generations had to deal with.[2] When you are thirty-five and still struggling to pay rent in a downtown apartment, marriage and children can seem like impossible financial constraints. Therefore, millennials are opting for singleness.

The recent data has not yet figured in what impact the global pandemic has or will have on the birth rate. The situation is so novel that experts can only speculate. However, given the massive economic fallout caused by the recession some twelve years ago, we can surmise that the trends will only continue downward. After all, almost a quarter of Americans have now filed for unemployment or have been furloughed amidst the ongoing crisis, and the longer the pandemic lasts, the more uncertain it’s becoming whether or not those jobs will be waiting for them in the long run.[3] This is going to pose tremendous economic anxiety. Men and women in their twenties and thirties may become flat out opposed to the idea of marriage as they are simply trying to fend for themselves. The scars of the pandemic may cut the upcoming generation too deeply to pursue the normal course of life that has long included home, marriage, and family.

However, it has been pointed out that marriage and children provide great motivation to create a stable income for the household. Rather than threaten financial security, it could be that those affected economically by the pandemic would do well to go ahead and marry for its other benefits. The question is, will this next recession appear too severe for marriage? We have to consider how the economy and its slow recovery will influence people’s decisions to marry and have children.

Whatever the pandemic will do to the continually declining birth rate, we do not want a generation to grow old with no family support. So many people involved in the sexual revolution in the 1960s are now having to contend with their decision not to marry or have children. And as the birth rate declines, so does the age diversity in our country, as well as the potential of all the good a new generation can do.

Hopefully amidst our current struggle we see more than just our generation implicated. We also need to consider those who will come after us. But of course, those people need to be born first.

[1] https://www.msn.com/en-us/health/health-news/birth-rates-in-the-us-decline-to-lowest-level-in-35-years/ar-BB14lcja?ocid=spartandhp

[2] https://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/poor-millennials/


Peter Biles is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories. He graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois in 2019 and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications, including Plough, Dappled Things, The Gospel Coalition, Salvo, and Breaking Ground.

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