Fertility rate plummets in the US, product of capitalism’s crisis today

By Brian Williams
May 20, 2024

The birthrate in the U.S. declined to an average of 1.62 births per woman in 2023, the lowest rate recorded since the government began tracking it in the 1930s. The root causes are the squeeze on workers’ living standards and rising uncertainty about what the future holds amid today’s capitalist crisis.

The 2023 decline is a 2% drop from a year earlier, alongside a cumulative drop of some 23% over the past 16 years. For a country’s population to at least hold steady requires a birth rate of 2.1 children per woman.

Birthrates are declining in many other countries for the same reason. In Germany births are at the lowest level in a decade, declining 6.2% from 2022. In Italy the birthrate dropped for the 15th straight year, to 1.2 per woman. Twelve people now die in Italy for every seven babies born.

In Asia, the birth rate in Japan plunged 5.1% in the last year, the lowest since statistics began being kept in 1899. China’s population fell by 2 million last year, as the birth rate is now approaching 1.0, far below the replacement rate.

This situation also reflects the mounting difficulties young workers face being able to afford a place of their own to start and raise a family. Facing high prices for groceries, gasoline, rent, mortgages, child care and more, increasing numbers of women are forced to put off decisions about whether to raise children.

The fertility rate in the U.S. of 1.62 births per woman is a huge drop from the “baby boom” years after World War II in the late 1940s and ’50s, when the rate was more than three births per woman. This decline began in the 1960s.

And the drop has been accelerating over the past decade and a half.

Except for a brief increase of 1% during the COVID pandemic from 2020 to 2021, the birthrate has been decreasing by 2% annually over the past decade.

Birthrates have long been falling for teenagers and younger women, but rising for women in their 30s and 40s. But last year birthrates fell for all women younger than 40.

Need for more immigrant workers

With a declining workforce, the bosses need more immigrants to labor for them and produce profits. The government “needs an annual immigration rate of about 3.5 times what it is now to offset plummeting birth rates among native-born Americans,” writes the New York Sun.

As the government moves to increase immigration it also expands the layer of the working class that lives in a second-class status, in fear of deportation. Bosses seek to use this to drive down the wages and conditions of all workers. This points to the need to organize all workers into unions to be better able to fight for wages and conditions that make family life possible.

Similarly, in Germany the government employment agency says 400,000 immigrant workers will be needed each year to prevent the labor force from shrinking further.

Worldwide the fertility rate has more than halved over the past 70 years. Half of all countries are below the population replacement level as of 2021, the Lancet  medical journal reports.

In contrast, sub-Saharan Africa has one of the highest birthrates. In 2021, 29% of the world’s babies were born there.