The US fertility rate has hit a historic low, according to surprising new provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2018, the general fertility rate sank to 60.2 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44 — a 3 percent drop from 2016. It was the fourth year the number of births has fallen, and the lowest in 32 years. As in other countries with slowing birthrates, the report raises concerns about whether the US will have enough young workers to keep productivity up and the economy in decent shape.
So what’s driving this decline? Experts point to several trends that could be the cause, including financial insecurity, teenagers having fewer babies and more women pursuing higher education and careers. The increase in long-acting contraceptives is another driving factor – rates of unplanned pregnancies are dropping as contraception use is rising. But the report also indicates that, rather than people forgoing having children altogether, we are instead seeing a changing demographic in motherhood. Women in their late 30s and early 40s were the two age groups with rising birthrates in 2018 – which wasn’t the case 20 to 30 years ago.
So what can we do to address this and support those who are starting families? Better parental leave policies and other offerings could help.
According to Mercer’s 2018 Survey on Absence and Disability Management, forty percent of employers offer paid parental leave, up from only 25% in 2015. This data shows the prevalence of these policies but it’s more important than ever to ensure your paid parental leave benefits are competitive. Employers should be taking necessary steps to ensure their time-off programs and policies provide today’s employees with the support they need to feel confident enough to have children and start families.
Keeping up with today’s working parents means having to reimagine what “support” might mean for them. Offering family friendly benefits – like end-to-end family planning programs – are gaining momentum amongst employers. These programs begin with preconception and fertility support, like IVF and egg freezing, and provides support all the way through delivery, leave and the first five years of parenthood. These programs aim to be accessible to employees, offering both virtual and in-home support from certified clinicians, and are meant to help parents return to work feeling confident. That’s an important boost for employee well-being. And knowing they have the support of their employers could inspire more people to have children -- helping to stabilize the US fertility rate and strengthen the workforce of the future.