To equal parts fanfare and horror, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a new report documenting a fairly significant fall in American fertility rates over the past decade. But despite the media framing, a dystopian shortage of Americans, in the manner of "The Handmaid's Tale," is not upon us quite yet. Furthermore, if we do face an economically dangerous inversion of our age demographics, for once, it won't be millennials' faults.
The statistics that made the most headlines were the fall of total fertility rates and the increase in average age of first-time mothers. The standalone figure could worry Americans that our demographic structure will head into an inversion similar to that of Japan's time bomb, where there are too few young people and workers to support aging adults. But context matters.
A decade ago, teen births nearly matched those of women ages 35-39, and they were almost quadruple that of women over 40. In just ten years, teen births halved, predominately due to improvements in the accessibility of birth control and education. On a fantastic note, the decline of teen births has occurred in tandem with a radical fall in the teen abortion rate. (When the teen abortion rate rose in the 70s, it was actually accompanied by an increase in teen pregnancies.)
Millennials are the first generation in the century to experience this sort of fall in teen pregnancies. So of course, that means the total fertility rate will fall as millennials, who were born in the 80s and 90s, enter their 20s, 30s, and 40s. In the past decade, the average age of first-time mothers increased from 25.9 to 27.7 in large metropolitan ares, 24.3 to 25.8 in smaller ones, and 23.2 to 24.5 in rural ones. That the decline of the birth rate fell in tandem with an increase, not a stagnation, of the age of first births indicates that most women aren't choosing to forgo motherhood altogether, but rather postpone it, presumably improving their children's economic support and stability.
At age 19, reality TV star and makeup mogul Kylie Jenner became pregnant with her first child. About a year later, Forbes featured her on its cover, billing Jenner the first self-made billionare in history. Unfortunately, a quarter of teen moms in the country wind up on welfare, perhaps correlated with the fact that the overwhelming majority of teen fathers will never marry the mother of their children.
While the American teenage pregnancy rate is still significantly higher than that of Canada and the United Kingdom, this dramatic decrease over the past decade is an undeniable benefit for fiscal conservatism and, most importantly, the kids born to better economic odds.
The more foreboding population premonition can be found not in the CDC's data, but greater cultural trends that could prove eerily Japanese in the future with Generation Z.
For all of the media's focus on sex, consent, and including every fetish under the sun in mainsteam coverage, Generation Z is suprisingly prudish, and perhaps dangerously so. Whereas nearly all teens in the 70s at least went on one date, a 2017 study found that only 63 percent of high school seniors from 2010 through 2015 did. Three-quarters of Baby Boomers had at least one job in high school. Now just half do. Despite the rise of algorithm-optimized sexual encounters, young people today are having less sex than those of multiple generations prior.
That's a number to think about regarding the emotional and interpersonal maturity of our future workforce, and by extension, an entire generation's readiness to eventually become parents.