To counter Tyler's "Department of Yikes" series, I'm officially inaugurating my "Department of Yay." First in my series: The American baby boomlet. Thanks in part to Hispanic immigrants, the U.S. has rebounded to replacement rate fertility. Today's USA Today has the facts (plus a serious statistical gaff):
A record number of babies were born in the USA in 2007, according to early federal data released Wednesday that some demographers say could signal an impending baby "boomlet."
The 4,315,000 births in 2007, reported as "provisional" data by the National Center for Health Statistics, gives just a glimpse of what's ahead in the nursery.
Nelson [a demographer at the U. of Utah] attributes the 2007 numbers to a "perfect storm" of factors: more immigrants having children, professional women who delayed childbearing until their 40s, and larger numbers of women in their 20s and 30s in the population, keeping the fertility rate high. The average number of births per woman was 2.1 in 2006, the highest since 1971.
Unless human biology has radically changed, I don't think the average woman in 2006 gave birth to 2.1 kids. Nelson was presumably talking about the total fertility rate, and fell victim to USA Today's effort to simplify his statement. The basic point of the article, though, is sound: These are truly impressive numbers for a developed country.
Experts believe there is a mix of reasons: a decline in contraceptive use, a drop in access to abortion, poor education and poverty. [Aside: Notice how the first two explanations are changes, but the second two are levels? Very fishy. -B.C.]
There are cultural reasons as well. Hispanics as a group have higher fertility rates — about 40 percent higher than the U.S. overall. And experts say Americans, especially those in middle America, view children more favorably than people in many other Westernized countries.
"Americans like children. We are the only people who respond to prosperity by saying, `Let's have another kid,"' said Nan Marie Astone, associate professor of population, family and reproductive health at Johns Hopkins University.
The same report also showed births becoming more common in nearly every age and racial or ethnic group. Birth rates increased for women in their 20s, 30s and early 40s, not just teens. They rose for whites, blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and Alaska Natives. The rate for Asian women stayed about the same.
If these trends continue for three more years, they could be as good for sales of Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids as I suspect Bush's re-election was for sales of The Myth of the Rational Voter. Zeitgeist matters. But all petty vanity aside, I'm looking forward to teaching econ to a bunch of these kids in 2026. See you there, baby boomlet.