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Birth Rates Decreased Drastically For Hispanic Population

LAUREN GILGER: There are fewer and fewer babies being born in the United States today. The birth rate for women across the board is down, but the sharpest decline is among Hispanic women. According to our next guest, their birth rate fell by 31 percent between 2006 and 2017, and at the same time, the birth rate among white women fell just around 5 percent. For African-American women, it was about an 11 percent drop. Marta Alvira-Hammond researches this issue with Child Trends, a nonprofit research organization, and for the National Research Center on Hispanic children and families. I spoke with her more about the numbers and what's behind them.

MARTA ALVIRA-HAMMOND: The decline in Hispanic birthrates is most likely a combination of factors, many of which aren't unique to Hispanics. So for example, women in the U.S. are having children later. Women and men in the U.S. are getting married later. Educational attainment has gone up, especially for women. Educational attainment among Hispanics has gone up faster in recent years than for some other groups. We've also seen big drops in teen births, especially among Hispanics, and there's also increased use of contraception, in particular the use of LARCs, what we call long acting reversible contraceptives like IUDs and implants. But in addition, the Hispanic population has changed and is continuing to change. The share of the Hispanic population that was not born in the United States is getting smaller. Most Hispanics in the U.S. today were born here. Immigrant Hispanic women have slightly more children on average than Hispanic women born in the U.S., and that immigrant proportion of the Hispanic population is shrinking, but it is important to point out also that fertility rates are getting lower in many of the Latin American countries that immigrants to the U.S. are coming from, including Mexico.

GILGER: So this isn't just happening here in the U.S.?


GILGER: Right. So there is like an immigrant story aspect of this, though, right? In the sense that like, you know, if your mom got pregnant when she was young and didn't get a chance to build her career or finish her education, she might tell you, "Don't do that,” like, “I want you to finish college or high school” or whatever it may be. Is that something that seems to be part of this story?

ALVIRA-HAMMOND: There definitely is some generational change that we see not just among Hispanics, but this applies, you know, to immigrant families across the board who then have children in the United States or children who come here when they're very, very young and are growing up in the United States. And sometimes that is a cultural shift. Other times it's associated with things like the higher education or other economic factors that are different in the United States and some of those changes also tend to be longer term. Because we know that fertility in some of these Latin American countries are also changing, it also means that the birthrates among those immigrant women may also be different than it was in the past. And so the size of that change from immigrant women to their daughters, that may change too.

GILGER: So then I want to talk about the implications of this, right? Like we've heard for so long that the Hispanic portion of the population in the U.S. is growing and is the fastest growing and will, you know, not be a minority population at some point. Is that changing the story here?

ALVIRA-HAMMOND: Well birth rates matter for the well-being of a society general, and knowing how many babies are being born helps us understand our population in a lot of ways, including some very practical ways. The dip in the fertility rates, for example, that we saw around the recession wasn't surprising, but it also hasn't recovered yet in the way that many thought it might. And so continued decline in birth rates could mean things like a smaller labor force and pose a problem for national programs like Social Security. At the local level, birthrates help a community understand its population. In a number of different ways, communities use this information to understand needs for things like child care and schools. But it's also important to point out that we can't say yet whether these declines will continue. I will say the Hispanic population historically has been the fastest growing, but among new arrivals to the United States, we see more immigration from Asian countries than coming from Mexico and Latin American countries.

GILGER: So it sounds like, by looking at the birth rates and the ways in which they are dipping now among various populations, you're able to see that the demographic future of this country might look very different.

ALVIRA-HAMMOND: Yeah it may look very different, and certainly our population looks very different now than it did a long time ago. But we can't say yet exactly what that's going to look like. Historically, we've often heard about high fertility rates among Hispanic women and the implications that that could have for, you know, changes in the population. But these birthrates are declining, so we don't know exactly what kinds of changes we're going to expect. It may not look like those kinds of projections that we were seeing years ago.

GILGER: All right. Marta Alvira-Hammond is a senior research analyst with Child Trends and for the National Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families. Marta, thank you so much for joining us to talk about this.

ALVIRA-HAMMOND: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.