November 30, 2012 — The record-low U.S. birth rate last year was driven by a dramatic decline in births among immigrant women, likely because of economic strain, according to a study released on Thursday by the Pew Research Center, the New York Times reports (Tavernise, New York Times, 11/29).
The study, which examined preliminary data from the National Center for Health Statistics, found that the nationwide birth rate declined by 8% between 2007 and 2010, to 63.2 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age (Winter, USA Today, 11/29). The birth rate decreased by 6% among U.S.-born women and by 14% among foreign-born women, the study found. The decline was particularly dramatic -- 23% -- among immigrants from Mexico (New York Times, 11/29).
However, even with the declines, foreign-born women continue to give birth to a disproportionate share of infants in the U.S., the report noted. In 2010, immigrants made up 13% of the U.S. population, but foreign-born women accounted for 23% of all births.
The new study found that states hit the hardest by the recession in 2007 and 2008 were most likely to have large declines in fertility the next year.
Pew researchers attributed the decline in birth rates among immigrants to a change in behavior because the number of U.S.- or foreign-born women of childbearing age did not significantly change (Czekalinski, "The Next America," National Journal, 11/29).
Previous Pew research has found a link between fertility and how people fared in the recession, according to Pew senior researcher Gretchen Livingston. The recession was especially hard on Latinos, whose "wealth declined by something like 66 percent," she said, noting that they also "perceive themselves as being extremely hard hit by the recession" (Ludden, "All Things Considered," NPR, 11/29).
Changes in immigrant birth rates could affect U.S. economic and social policy, according to the Washington Post. A sustained decrease could challenge the long-held belief that immigrant births will help maintain the U.S. population and fuel the taxpaying base of workers needed to support aging baby boomers, the Post reports.
"We've been assuming that when the baby-boomer population gets most expensive, that there are going to be immigrants and their children who are going to be paying into (programs for the elderly), but in the wake of what's happened in the last five years, we have to reexamine those assumptions," said Roberto Suro, a professor of public policy at the University of Southern California (Bahrampour, Washington Post, 11/29).