Steven A. Camarota and Karen Zeigler, Center for Immigration Studies, April 1, 2020
“Only Immigrants Can Reverse America’s Baby Bust” reads the title of a Bloomberg News column from last year. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush famously said in 2013 that “Immigrants are more fertile.” Bush and many others have argued for large-scale immigration on the grounds that America’s aging society needs immigrants and their higher fertility to, in Bush’s words, “rebuild the demographic pyramid.” However, demographers have generally found that, although immigration can significantly increase the overall size of a nation’s population, its impact on slowing population aging is quite limited. This analysis looks at the actual fertility of immigrants based on the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which includes legal and illegal immigrants. The findings show that immigrant fertility has declined even more steeply than that of the native-born in recent years. As a result, immigration’s small impact on the overall fertility rate has become even more modest.
- The birth rate for women in their reproductive years (ages 15-50) declined nearly three times as much for immigrants (legal and illegal) as for the native-born between 2008 and 2018.
- The birth rate for immigrant women of reproductive age declined from 76 to 61 births per thousand from 2008 to 2018 — a decline of 15 births per thousand. In contrast, native fertility declined from 55 to 50 births per thousand — a decline of five births per thousand.
- Although still higher than that of the native-born, immigrant fertility has only a small impact on the nation’s overall birth rate. The presence of immigrants raises the birth rate for all women in their reproductive years by just two births per thousand (3.9 percent).
- Immigration has a minor impact because the difference between immigrant and native fertility is too small to significantly change the nation’s overall birth rate.
- Even if the number of immigrant women ages 15-50 doubled, along with births to this population, it would still only raise the overall national birth rate an additional 2.6 percent above the current level.
- In addition to births per thousand, fertility is often measured using the total fertility rate (TFR). The TFR reports the number of children a woman can be expected to have in her lifetime based on current patterns.
- Like the birth rate, the TFR of immigrants has declined more rapidly than that of native-born women. In 2008, immigrant women had a TFR of 2.75 children; by 2018 it had fallen to 2.15 — a 0.61-child decline. For native-born women, it declined from 2.07 to 1.74 — a 0.34-child decline.
- Like births per thousand, the presence of immigrants in the country has only a small impact on the nation’s overall TFR. In 2018, immigrants only increased the nation’s overall TFR by 0.08 children (4.5 percent).
- The current TFR of immigrant women of 2.15 is now just above 2.1, the level necessary to replace the existing population. It seems likely that immigrant fertility will soon dip below replacement level, which means that, in the long run, immigration will add to the aging of American society.
- Another reason that immigration can add to population aging in the long-term is that for every major racial/ethnic group sending large numbers of immigrants, fertility is below the replacement level among the native-born generation.
- In 2018, three-fourths of immigrant women in their reproductive years were either Hispanic or Asian. Among native-born Hispanic women the TFR in 2018 was 1.77 children, and it was 1.58 children for native-born Asians — both well below replacement level.
- There is now little meaningful difference in the TFR’s of native-born Hispanics (1.77), blacks (1.75), and whites (1.73).
- Although immigration has only a small impact on overall fertility and aging, it has a significant impact on population size. For example, new immigrants and births to immigrants between 2000 and 2018 added 35.9 million people to the country — equal to more than three-fourths of U.S. population growth over this time period.