What The New Fertility Rates Can Really Tell Us

photographed by Eylul Aslan.
On Wednesday, a new report came out from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), which details how fertility rates have changed from 2007 to 2017. The biggest takeaway? Total fertility rates are down across the board, and people appear to be waiting until they're older to have kids. This might sound kind of obvious or it might come as a bit of a surprise. Either way, what exactly can this information tell us?
First, it's helpful to define what exactly "fertility rate" means in this context. Technically, the fertility rate is defined as the estimated number of lifetime births expected per 1,000 women, based on the age-specific birth rates in a given year, according to the NCHS. To determine this information, researchers examined data from the "birth data set," which comes from the National Vital Statistics System.
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This report breaks down how total fertility rates differ based on geography, but interestingly, the rates declined across the board. In rural areas, the fertility rate declined 9% over the course of the 10-year period; in small or medium metro areas it dropped 16%; and in large metro counties, it dropped 18%. So, rural areas had 10-14% higher total fertility rates for each year compared to metropolitan areas, but they're still low comparatively.
This decrease was true across the three racial groups that researchers looked at: Hispanic, non-Hispanic Black, and non-Hispanic white. Of those three categories, they found the biggest decline from 2007 to 2017 was among those who identified as Hispanic.
The other trend that's worth noting from this report is the age at which people are beginning to have a family. Mean maternal age is increasing, which means people are waiting longer to have kids than in previous years. Over the period of time that researchers examined, mean maternal age went up 1.3 years in rural countries, 1.5 years in small or medium metro counties, and 1.8 years in large metro areas.
Here's how that breaks down: In large metro areas, the mean age that people had their first kid shifted from 25.9 to 27.7; in small or medium metro areas, it went from 24.3 to 25.8; and in rural counties, it went from 23.2 to 24.5. While people in all areas are waiting longer to have kids, there seems to be a growing gap developing between people in metro areas and those in rural ones, Danielle Ely, NCHS statistician and author of this report, told BuzzFeed News.
This could have to do with a combination of factors, like reduced teen pregnancy rates and improved fertility treatments that advance the age at which people can have kids. It could also be related to how expensive it is to raise a child. Ultimately, these are just numbers, so they don't paint the full picture of the many reasons why people choose to wait to have kids or not to have them at all. And although it's now 2018, it bears repeating that it's a woman's right to choose what she does with her body — baby-having included.
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