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America's looming birth boom

July 29, 2018

Is America’s birth rate about to start booming?

 

Birth rates typically drop during recessions and rise a bit during booms. They did drop notably from 2007 to 2009. But the latest data don’t show a rebound, despite significant growth and record-low unemployment.

 

The trend varies among demographic groups. Native-born Hispanics and blacks used to have birth rates above the replacement rate (2.1 births per woman). Now they’re below replacement, almost as low that of as native-born whites and Asians, which are down only a bit. The immigrant birth rate remains above replacement level among blacks, but only barely above among Hispanics, and below among whites and Asians.

 

One possible consequence: Those often-gleeful predictions that whites will soon be a minority will not be realized so soon, or maybe ever. Nor is it clear, as sociologist Richard Alba has suggested, whether often-intermarrying Hispanics and Asians will see themselves as aggrieved minorities.

 

Also, the sharp drop in the Hispanic birth rate combined with the sharp drop of Hispanic (especially Mexican) immigration post-2007 means a lower proportion of low-skill immigrants competing for jobs with low-skill Americans. Asian immigrants may outnumber Hispanics and arrive with significantly higher skill levels. So may immigrants from African countries like Nigeria and Ghana. Their capacity for expanding the economy rather than competing for low-skill jobs may point to unexpected growth.

 

Other familiar trends may be reversed. Fewer young people would get caught in the trap of incurring huge college debt for worthless degrees or none at all if, as the Manhattan Institute’s Aaron Renn suggests, enrollment in higher education, already declining, starts plunging. Might young people bypass college and find constructive jobs and marry and raise families as their counterparts did in the postwar years?

That’s suggested by a recent trend reversal. During the sluggish 2008-2013 economy, young Americans stayed put in tiny child-unfriendly apartments in hip central-coastal cities like New York and San Francisco, and paid high rents resulting from stringent environmental restrictions. This was hailed as a move toward progressive attitudes. But evidently not. As Newgeography proprietor Joel Kotkin has noted, since growth returned, young people have been heading to child-friendly suburbs and exurbs, ditching subway cards for SUV fobs.

 

All of which raises the possibility of current stubbornly low birth rates being on the verge of a rise, away from the economically and culturally divided low-birth-rate society described in Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart,” and toward something suggested by Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again.

 

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