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The number of births continues to fall, despite abortion bans

Tim Henderson, 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.

In states where abortion access is most protected, births fell for both Hispanic and non-Hispanic women.

“The big takeaway to me is the likely increase in poverty for all family members, including children, in families affected by lack of access (to abortion and birth control),” said Elizabeth Gregory, director of the Institute for Research on Women, Gender & Sexuality at the University of Houston.

Many of the nation’s most Hispanic states where abortion and birth control are more freely available saw the biggest decreases in births: about 5% in California, Maryland, Nevada and New Mexico.

“Hispanic women as a group are facing more challenges in accessing reproductive care, including both contraception and abortion,” Gregory said in a university report earlier this year. “Unplanned births often directly impact women’s workforce participation and negatively affect the income levels of their families.”

Hispanic women on average have more children than Black or white women. Their fertility rates rose throughout much of the 1980s and 1990s, then fell in the late 2000s to near the same level as other groups. That’s because both abortion and more reliable birth control became more widely available, Gregory said.

The fact that some of the steepest drops were in heavily Hispanic states outside of Arizona and Texas suggests that Latina women are continuing a path toward smaller and delayed families typical of other groups.

Most of the decline in California has been associated with fewer babies born to Hispanic women, especially immigrants, said Johnson, of the Public Policy Institute of California.


“California has a high share of Latinos compared to other states, and so fertility declines in that group have a huge effect on the overall decline in California,” he said. California was above replacement fertility as recently as 2008, he added, and would still be there if Hispanic fertility had not dropped. California is about 40% Hispanic, about the same as Texas and second only to New Mexico at 50%.

Birth rates also declined steeply in heavily Hispanic Nevada and New Mexico, with each dropping about 4% from 2022 to 2023. But Arizona, Florida and Texas, also in the top 10 states for Hispanic population share but faster-growing, saw relatively small drops of about 1%.

Texas banned almost all abortions after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022. The state also requires parental consent for birth control, a rule that’s included federally funded family planning centers since a lower court ruling that same year.

Arizona also saw the number of abortions drop in 2022. After the high court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision, an Arizona judge revived enforcement of a near-total ban on the procedure that was enacted in the Civil War era. Many clinics closed and never reopened.

Abortions in the state plummeted from more than 1,000 a month early in 2022 to 220 in July 2022, and never fully recovered, according to state records. The rate of abortions dropped 19% for the year. Births that year increased slightly, by 500, over 2021.

In Texas, Gregory’s research at the University of Houston research saw an effect on Hispanic births when an abortion ban took effect in 2021. Fertility rates rose 8% that year for Hispanic women 25 and older, according to the report.

Both Texas and Arizona also are growing quickly, making the smaller decreases in births harder to interpret, Arizona State Demographer Jim Chang noted. Chang declined comment on the effect of abortion accessibility on state birth rates.

Budget effects

Overall, the continuing fall in birth numbers could have significant effects on state budgets in the future. The slide augurs more enrollment declines for state-funded public schools already facing more dropouts since the pandemic.

“The decline we see in enrollment since COVID-19 is a bigger problem than just the decline in birth rates,” said Sofoklis Goulas, an economic studies fellow at the Brookings Institution. Rural schools and urban high schools have been particularly hard hit, according to a Brookings report Goulas authored this year.

“We don’t have a clear answer. We suspect a lot of people are doing home education or going to charter schools and private schools but we’re not sure,” Goulas told Stateline.

Still, states need to recognize declining births as an emerging factor in state budgets to avoid future budget shortfalls, said Jeff Chapman, a research director who monitors the trend at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Nationally, births did increase slightly for women older than 40, indicating a continuing trend toward delayed parenthood, said William Frey, a demographer at Brookings.

“The last two post-pandemic years do not necessarily indicate longer-term trends,” Frey said. “Young adults are still getting used to a recovering economy, including childbearing.”



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