For decades, experts cautioned about global overpopulation — the idea that there were just too many people out there for one planet to realistically sustain. But times are changing and the birth rate, which was expected to continue to soar at the rapidly rising levels we saw in the post-war era has instead fallen off a cliff. These days, experts have the opposite concern: people aren’t having enough babies.
In fact, the U.S. birth rate is currently well below what’s known as the “replacement level” — the ratio of babies being born compared to aging generations. “That’s a crisis,” University of Southern California Professor Dowell Myers told CBS, who studies generational trends.
“We need to have enough working-age people to carry the load of these seniors, who deserve their retirement, they deserve all their entitlements, and they’re gonna live out another 30 years,” he continued. “Nobody in the history of the globe has had so many older people to deal with.”
Some experts had hoped that a year in lockdown would give the plunging birth rate a little extra oomph but, in fact, the opposite happened. There’s been an overall decline in new babies since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic (maybe because people aren’t sure about adding a new baby into an already decidedly stressful era?)
So the big question is why? Why are millennials so hesitant to have children at the rates their parents and grandparents did?
There’s probably more than one answer. Some experts point to the growing number of women in the workforce as one possible reason. The U.S. lags far behind much of the developed world in terms of providing maternal leave for women. In fact, the U.S. is the only developed country in the world without federally mandated paid parental leave. That means as more women enter the professional world, there are fewer guarantees in place that their careers will be protected if they choose to have children.
And then there’s the simple reality of ballooning childcare costs. Millennials do not have the same financial security that older generations did at their age, even as expenses have soared.
“The cost of housing, the cost of education, all these things have become more and more difficult,” Dowell Myers told CBS. “I think the boomers themselves don’t realize how much harder it is for millennials today. And they think, ‘Oh yeah, when we were young we had to live, you know, on very little money, and we made do, and you can do the same.’ That’s the story, right? Well no, it really is a lot harder for young people today. It’s amazing how much harder it is.”