Birth Rates Among Immigrants in America

Steven A. Camarota, Center for Immigration Studies, October 2005

Analysis of data collected by Census Bureau in 2002 shows that women from the top-10 immigrant—sending countries living in the United States collectively tend to have higher fertility than women in their home countries. As a group, immigrants from these countries have 23 percent more children than women in their home countries, adding to world population growth. Among the findings:

• In 2002, immigrant women (legal and illegal) from the top-10 immigrant-sending countries had 2.9 children on average, compared to a fertility rate of 2.3 children in their home countries—a 23-percent difference.

• Among Mexican immigrants in the United States, for example, fertility averages 3.5 children per woman compared to 2.4 children per women in Mexico. Among Chinese immigrants, fertility is 2.3 in the United States compared to 1.7 in China. Immigrants from Canada have 1.9 children compared to 1.5 children in Canada.

• While immigrants from the top-10-sending countries have more children than women in their home counties, for immigrants from three countries—India, Vietnam, and the Philippines—immigrant fertility is lower in the United States than in their home countries.

• Immigrants in the United States can differ in important ways from the general population of the countries they come from. If we adjust for their education level, which is a good predictor of fertility, we find that the gap with their home countries actually grows—from being 23 percent higher to 33 percent higher.

• Put a different way, given the education level of immigrants and the fertility of similarly educated women in their home countries, one would expected immigrants from the top sending countries to have 2.15 children on average in the United States, not the 2.9 they actually do have.

• As for legal status, we estimate that the birth rate of illegal alien women was 3.1 children on average in 2002, or about 50 percent higher than the two children natives have on average. The birth rate for legal immigrants is 2.6, or about one-third higher than that of natives.

• The high fertility rate of illegal aliens seems to be due primarily to factors other than their legal status, such as culture and educational attainment.

• We have previously estimated from birth records that there were 380,000 births to illegal aliens in 2002, accounting for nearly 10 percent of all births in the United States.

• If illegals are allowed to remain in the country, either as illegal aliens or legal residents, births alone will add some four million people to the U.S. population over the next decade.

• While immigrant fertility is significantly higher than that of natives, their presence in the United States is not the reason the overall fertility rate in the United States is much higher than in other western countries. Fertility in the U.S. is roughly 2.0 children, with or without immigrants.

• New immigrants (legal and illegal) plus births to immigrants add some 2.3 million people to the United States each year, accounting for most of the nation’s population increase.

• Immigrant fertility differs by education level much more than that of natives. For example, immigrants without a high school degree have 3.3 children on average, 74 percent higher than the 1.9 children for college graduate immigrants. In contrast, native high school dropouts have 2.3 children on average, only 27 percent higher than the 1.8 fertility for native college graduates.

• Because immigrant fertility differs so much by education, immigrants now account for more than one in three births to mothers without a high school diploma.

As the nation’s immigrant (foreign-born) population has grown in recent years, a good deal of research has been devoted to their socio-demographic characteristics. However, less attention has been paid to their fertility. Children born to immigrants are probably the most important long-term effect of immigration. This study explores immigrant birth rates with particular focus on how they differ from women in their home countries. Studying immigrant fertility is necessary in order to understand immigration’s impact on U.S. and world population growth as well as its effect on public services provided to children. In addition, fertility can be seen as a measure of immigrant integration. If people are choosing to have more children, this may indicate that they feel relatively optimistic about the future. Only recently has data become available to study immigrant fertility in any detail.

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