American women are having fewer children and having them at a later age, according to government figures released on Tuesday. Data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics — statistical department of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention —in recent years, with most women having an average of 1.3 children and an increasing proportion of those aged 35 or older.
“Over the last decade, we’ve seen a huge shift in when and how women give birth,” Alison Gemmill, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who studies demographics and fertility, told CBS News.
According to the report, in 2015-2019, 56.7% of women aged 15-49 had at least one child. As of 2019, the last year the fertility survey was conducted, birth rates have generally continued to increase for women aged 35–39, according to CDC data. The data shows that birth rates also increased among women in their 40s between 1985 and 2019.
But Gemmill said that’s not necessarily a bad trend.
Simply put, most women just wait until they feel ready. The reasons for the delay vary, the report said, and include the pursuit of higher education, increased labor force participation, changes in family values, relationship instability and financial considerations. Studies have also shown that women who wait tend to be better off economically and in a more stable home environment. Almost half of the women who gave birth to a child aged 30 or older had a university degree.
“The most important question we should be asking is, will women who wait be able to have the children they want?” Gemmill said.
The report also shows that there is a steady trend for Americans to have children outside of marriage. Almost half (47.2%) of births occurred outside of marriage, but this number decreased if the mother had a university degree.
Another finding from the report found teenage pregnancies had plummeted, with researchers reporting a record low 2019 birth rate among teens aged 15-19.
As for men, while the average age of fathers for the first time was higher than the average age of mothers for the first time since the CDC began collecting data, Tuesday’s report showed that men are also now waiting even longer. In 2011-2014, the average age of fathers was 25.5 for the first time. Over the next five years, it increased to 26.4.
But the decline in the birth rate has sparked fears of negative consequences for the tax base and workers in the country.
“We need to have a long-term stable workforce to sustain our economy,” said Dr. John Rowe, a professor at Columbia University who specializes in health policy and aging management. Rowe said changes to immigration and technology policies, and changes to work and pension requirements to allow individuals to remain productive in the workforce for longer periods, could help mitigate the impact on the economy.