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The number of births continues to fall, despite abortion bans

Tim Henderson, Stateline.org on

Published in News & Features

Births continued a historic slide in all but two states last year, making it clear that a brief post-pandemic uptick in the nation’s birth numbers was all about planned pregnancies that had been delayed temporarily by COVID-19.

Only Tennessee and North Dakota had small increases in births from 2022 to 2023, according to a Stateline analysis of provisional federal data on births. In California, births dropped by 5%, or nearly 20,000, for the year. And as is the case in most other states, there will be repercussions now and later for schools and the workforce, said Hans Johnson, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California who follows birth trends.

“These effects are already being felt in a lot of school districts in California. Which schools are going to close? That’s a contentious issue,” Johnson said.

In the short term, having fewer births means lower state costs for services such as subsidized day care and public schools at a time when aging baby boomers are straining resources. But eventually, the lack of people could affect workforces needed both to pay taxes and to fuel economic growth.

Nationally, births fell by 2% for the year, similar to drops before the pandemic, after rising slightly the previous two years and plummeting 4% in 2020.

“Mostly what these numbers show is (that) the long-term decline in births, aside from the COVID-19 downward spike and rebound, is continuing,” said Phillip Levine, a Wellesley College economics professor.

 

To keep population the same over the long term, the average woman needs to have 2.1 children over her lifetime — a metric that is considered the “replacement” rate for a population. Even in 2022 every state fell below that rate, according to final data for 2022 released in April. The rate ranged from a high of 2.0 in South Dakota to less than 1.4 in Oregon and Vermont.

Trends for Latina women

The declines in births weren’t as steep in some heavily Hispanic states where abortion was restricted in 2022, including Texas and the election battleground state of Arizona. Births were down only 1% in Arizona and Texas. When health clinics closed, many women might have been unable to get reliable birth control or, if they became pregnant, to get an abortion.

Hispanic births rose in states where abortion is most restricted, even as non-Hispanic births fell in the same states, according to the Stateline analysis. It’s hard, however, to tell how much of a role abortion access played compared with immigration and people moving to growing states such as Texas and Florida.

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