The post-World War II baby boom is in its twilight years. It began at the war’s end and extended until 1994. Currently, we’re in what Washington Post economic writer Robert Samuelson calls “the great bust.”
And what are the causes?
According to demographer Nicholas Eberstadt, one underlying cause is a decline in religious belief. Americans are going to church less often and we’re also having fewer babies.
In a recent Wall Street Journal/ABC News poll only 29 percent of those surveyed said they attend church once a week or more often. That’s down from 41 percent in 2000. The share of Americans who say they never attend religious services has risen from 14 percent in 2000 to 26 percent today. For younger Americans, aged 18 to 34, the percentage of non-attenders was the same as the rest of the country in 2000 — 14 percent. Now 36 percent in this age group never attend church.
The fact that fewer young adults espouse religious values bears on family size. Robert Samuelson describes a new life stage, inserted before marriage, home buying and having children.
He points to another cause of the baby bust: the economic squeeze on the millennial generation, due to the Great Recession of 2007 through 2009. Millennials just entering the workforce were hit particularly hard. When you’re delayed getting your first job, future earnings and wealth are impacted. You’re more likely to wait to marry and start a family.
A third cause of the lower birth rate is the dramatic decline in unwanted or teen pregnancies. Since 1991, the number of teenage births has dropped by more than half. That’s partially offset by the fact that older women, ages and 35 and up, are having more babies. These higher fertility rates among college-educated, married women, are certainly good for our needed population growth. These women may be having more babies. But there’s a limit. After all, their biological clocks are ticking.