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New York Times Columnist Suggests Social, Cultural Shifts Are Behind Lower Birth Rate

New York Times Columnist Suggests Social, Cultural Shifts Are Behind Lower Birth Rate

December 3, 2012 — Although recent declines in the U.S. birth rate have been linked to the recession, "deeper forces than the financial crisis may keep American fertility rates depressed," New York Times columnist Ross Douthat writes, referencing a study released by the Pew Research Center that found the U.S. birth rate hit a record low in 2011.

For example, he writes that "[f]or Americans without college degrees, economic instability and a shortage of marriageable men seem to be furthering two trends in tandem: more women are having children out of wedlock, and fewer are raising families at all." In addition, there has emerged a "broader cultural shift away from a child-centric understanding of romance and marriage," according to Douthat.

Douthat argues that evidence from Sweden and France shows that "reducing the ever-rising cost of having kids can help fertility rates rebound," adding, "Whether this means a more family-friendly tax code, a push for more flexible work hours, or an effort to reduce the cost of college, there's clearly room for creative policy to make some difference."

However, "cultural forces that no legislator can really hope to change" also are in play, according to Douthat. He writes, "The retreat from child rearing is, at some level, a symptom of late-modern exhaustion -- a decadence" that "can only be reversed by the slow accumulation of individual choices, which is how all social and cultural recoveries are ultimately made" (Douthat, New York Times, 12/1).