While the country digests Governor Romney’s unexpectedly good showing at Wednesday’s presidential debate, Roger Clegg at National Review calls us back to higher things. This week the CDC released its 2011 report on births in the United States and the numbers paint an ugly picture. More than an ugly picture, they show us a society in self-caused decline.
In order to maintain the overall size of the population, each woman must have, on average, 2.1 children. Two children replace the two parents and then a few more need to be born to make up for untimely deaths and infertility. The CDC report tells us that the Total Fertility Rate for 2011 was 1.89, well off the replacement pace. The United States simply is not reproducing itself. If this trend continues, then apart from immigration there will be fewer US citizens here 100 years from now than there are today. Regardless of what kind of environment, wealth, culture, or political institutions we leave behind, we’re leaving it to fewer and fewer of us.
Teen births have declined, which is good, but so did births to twentysomethings, which is bad (a 1 percent decrease for 25-29 year-olds and 3 percent decrease for 20-24 year-olds). Births to 40-44 year-old mothers increased. Not only are we having fewer children, we’re having them at older ages.
The biological picture is unhappy, but the social one remains perhaps the most alarming. Our children are being born into dysfunctional homes. Over 40% of births were to unmarried women (a number 0.1 percent better than last year). This means that two out of five American children are starting their lives without a married mom and dad. If we anticipate that many of the married parents will eventually get divorced, we see that well over half of the next generation will come from a broken home. The normal and the abnormal are trading places.
There are a few numbers to be happy about: The preterm birth rate declined slightly and the cesarean delivery rate stopped increasing. But the overall picture is not one of health, but of decline.
Presidential debates are important, but by the most basic measure of societal well-being we are in trouble. And it is a kind of trouble that no tax break or health insurance reform is going to change. As a nation we have some soul-searching to do.
David Talcott an assistant professor of philosophy at the King’s College (NY).