Why Birthrates Among Hispanic Americans Have Plummeted

Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, March 7, 2019

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As fertility rates across the United States continue to decline — 2017 had the country’s lowest rate since the government started keeping records — some of the largest drops have been among Hispanics. The birthrate for Hispanic women fell by 31 percent from 2007 to 2017, a steep decline that demographers say has been driven in part by generational differences between Hispanic immigrants and their American-born daughters and granddaughters.

It is a story of becoming more like other Americans. Nearly two-thirds of Hispanics in the United States today are born in this country, a fact that is often lost in the noisy political battles over immigration. Young American-born Hispanic women are less likely to be poor and more likely to be educated than their immigrant mothers and grandmothers, according to the Pew Research Center, and many are delaying childbearing to finish school and start careers, just like other American-born women.

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The Hispanic decline is helping to drive a major shift in the country’s fertility patterns. Child Trends found that 2016 was the first year in which American women ages 25 to 29 did not have the highest birthrate. Instead, the rate was highest among women in their early 30s.

In the last year, as demographers have tried to better understand what is driving the country’s overall declining fertility rate, they have looked more closely at the data broken down by race and ethnic group.

The fertility rate for Hispanics — defined by demographers as people who report they are of Hispanic origin on birth certificates — dropped to 67.6 from 97.4 births per 1,000 women. By contrast, the rate for non-Hispanic whites fell by 6 percent to 57.2, and by about 12 percent for blacks to 63.1, according to Child Trends.

The implications of the Hispanic decline are broad. With the white population shrinking, Hispanics account for the majority of the population gains in the United States. And while their fertility rates are still the highest for any major racial and ethnic group, the steep drops in recent years are having an effect.

The United States population grew by just 0.6 percent last year, the smallest increase in 80 years, according to Ken Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire. He noted that, at current rates, young Hispanic women will have an average of two children, down from three just a decade ago.

The largest decline in Hispanic fertility rates has been among women of Mexican heritage, Dr. Guzman said. That is significant for the nation’s fertility patterns because of the sheer size of the Mexican origin population, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of all Hispanics and around 11 percent of the American population, according to the Pew Research Center.

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Between 2007 and 2017, the population of Hispanic women of childbearing age in Wake County grew nearly 50 percent, drawn by a booming local economy. Yet the fertility rate for Hispanic women dropped by about 47 percent, according to Dr. Johnson. The rate for women who were not Hispanic dropped by about 16 percent in the same period, he said.

Birthrates tend to follow economic cycles. The fact that the American rate has not picked up along with the economy in recent years has puzzled demographers. In a survey late last year, the top reasons young women gave for delaying children involved money — children were simply too expensive.

But several young women interviewed for this article said that was not the case for them. Many came from large extended families with aunts and cousins who would care for a baby if need be. Many of those women had been raised by siblings in Mexico as their parents worked.

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Some women said their lives were so busy — many worked full time while also going to school — that they did not have time for friends, never mind boyfriends. Many lived at home in distant suburbs, instead of on campuses in the city, making socializing difficult.

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