The U.S. population grew by only 7.4 percent over the past decade, the smallest increase since the 1930s, the Census Bureau reported yesterday. This morning, I want to explain why and talk about both the upsides and downsides of slower population growth.
17 percent fewer children than in 1990 — and about 50 percent fewer than in 1960. The U.S. still has a higher fertility rate than Japan and Germany, but it is in the same range as Britain and Sweden and below France and Ireland. There are now more Americans 80 and older than 2 or younger.
The second factor behind the slow population growth is a decline in legal immigration during Donald Trump’s presidency. (Illegal immigration does not appear to have changed significantly.)
relatively flimsy child care programs. Historically, birthrates have declined as societies become more educated and wealthier.
Lower levels of immigration can also have upsides. The big wage gains for American workers during the mid-20th century had many causes, including strong labor unions, rising educational attainment and high tax rates on top incomes. But the tight immigration restrictions of that period also played a role.
“Immigration restriction, by making unskilled labor more scarce, tended to shore up wage rates,” the labor historian Irving Bernstein wrote in a 1960 book. The economists Peter Lindert and Jeffrey Williamson have noted that economic inequality declined more during the mid-20th century in countries with slower labor force growth.
And the big downsides
Over all, though, the slowdown in population growth is probably a net negative for the U.S. — as both conservatives (like Ross Douthat) and liberals (like Michelle Goldberg) have argued.
For one thing, polls show that many Americans want more children than they are having, as The Times’s Claire Cain Miller has noted. But the slow-growing incomes and a shortage of good child care options have led some people to decide that they cannot afford to have as many children as they would like. The decline in the birthrate, in other words, is partly a reflection of American society’s failure to support families.