Tag Archives: demography

How big will the drop in weddings be? Big

With data snapshot addendum at the end.

In the short run, people are canceling their weddings that were already booked, or not planning the ones they were going to have this summer or fall. In the long run, we don’t know.

To look at the short run effect, I used Google Trends to extract the level of traffic for five searches over the last five years: wedding dressesbridal shower, wedding licensewedding shower, and wedding invitations (here is the link to one, just change the terms to get the others). These are things you Google when you’re getting married. Google reports search volume for each term weekly, scaled from 0 to 100.

Search traffic for these terms is highly correlated with each other across weeks, between .45 and .76. I used Stata to combine them into an index (alpha = .92), which ranges from 22 to 87 for 261 weeks, from May 2015 to last week.

For the graph, I smoothed the trend with a 5-week average. Here is the trend, with dates for the peaks and troughs (click to enlarge):

wedding plans searches.xlsx

The annual pattern is very strong. Each year people people do a lot of wedding searches for about two months, from mid-January to early-March, before traffic falls for the rest of year, until after Thanksgiving. There is a decline over these five years, but I don’t put too much stock in that because maybe the terms people use are changing over time.

But this year there is a break. After starting out with a normal spike in mid-January, searches lurched downward into February, and then collapsed to their lowest level in five years — at what should have been the height of the wedding Google search season.

Clearly, there will be a decline in weddings this spring and summer, or until we “reopen,” whatever that means. A lot of people just can’t get married. When you think about the timing of marriage, most people getting married in a given year are probably already planning to at least half a year in advance. So even if no one’s relationships are affected, and their long term plans don’t change, we’ll still see a decline in marriages this year just from canceled plans.

Beyond that, however, people probably aren’t meeting and falling in love as much. People who are dating probably aren’t as likely to advance their relationships through what would have been a normal development – dating, love, kids, marriage, and so on. So a lot of existing relationships – even for people who weren’t engaged – probably aren’t moving toward marriage. Even if they get back on track later, that’s a delay of a year or two or however long. This says nothing about people being stressed, miserable, sick (or worse), and otherwise not in any kind of mood.

In the longer term, what does the pandemic mean for confidence in the future? The crisis will undermine people’s ability to make long term decisions and commitments. Unless the cultural or cognitive model of marriage changes, insecurity or instability will mean less marriage in the future. This could be a long term effect even after the acute period passes.

What about a rebound? Eventually – again, whenever that is – there probably will be some rebound. At least, just practically, some people who put off marriage will go ahead and do it later. Although, as with delayed births, some postponed marriages probably will end up being foregone. On a larger scale, when people can get out and get together and get married again, there might well be a marriage bounce (and also even a baby boom). Presumably that would depend on a very positive scenario: a vaccine, an economic resurgence, maybe a big government boost, like after WWII. A surge in optimism about the future, happiness. That’s all possible. This also depends on the cultural model of marriage we have now, so that good times equals more marriage (and childbearing). In real life, any such effect might be small, dwarfed by big declines from chaos, fear, and uncertainty. I can’t predict how these different impulses might play against each other. However, on balance, my out-on-a-limb forecast is a decline in marriage.

kissing sailor

Data snapshot addendum

I didn’t realize there was monthly data available already. For example, in Florida they release monthly marriage counts by county, and they have released the April numbers. These show a 1% increase in marriages year-over-year in January, a 31% increase in February, then a 31% drop in March and a 72% drop in April [Since I first posted this, Florida added 477 more marriages in April, and a few in the earlier months, changing these percentages by a couple points as on June 5. -pnc.] Here is a scatter plot [updated] showing the count of marriages by county in 2019 and 2020. Counties below the diagonal have fewer marriages in 2020 than they did in 2019. Not surprising, but still dramatic to see it happening in “real time” (not really, just in quickly available data).

florida marriages.xlsx

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11 trends for your New Decade’s holiday party

There’s a lot to do this decade, and only a few days to do it. You need to look smart doing it. The best way to look smart is to be smart, and that means ingesting meaningful bits of data and turning them into useful knowledge. When you display data bits at a holiday party, they merge with those from the other people there, to become the common knowledge we need to get things done in the next decade, which we will do.

So here are a few meaningful bits of demographic data, presented with trend lines and easy-to-memorize fact statements. These aren’t the most important or most interesting demographic trends of the decade, but they’re all meaningful and readily interpretable — plus I was able to gather them on short notice between other last-minute decadal deadlines. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Notes: We don’t have data through the end of the decade for all of these, so I just present the latest data. And I extend them back toward 1999 as far as I can for context. And I scaled them to show the change as clearly as possible, so watch out for y-axes that are compressed to the active range rather than starting at zero (file complaints here). If I don’t specify the time frame in the text, it refers to the last 10 years of data.

So just memorize the facts that interest you, and remember the associated images. Here goes.


Overdose deaths increased more than 80 percent.

od


Chlamydia cases increased by a third.

chlamydia


One-in-six 25-34 year-olds live with their parents

livhome


The share of college graduates majoring in sociology or history fell by more than a third.

histsoc


The percentage of new mothers who are married has risen back over two-thirds.

marbirth


For the first time in decades women over 40 may soon be more likely to have a baby than teenagers.

fertage


The divorce rate has fallen 20 percent.

divorce


People with college degrees are 19 percent more likely to be married than people without.

margap


International adoptions fell by more than two-thirds.

intadopt


Refugee admissions are at their lowest level since before 1980, and falling fast.

refugee


The newspaper industry was cut in half.

news


Happy New Decade!

 

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Family diversity, new normal

Family diversity is not just a buzzword (although it is that), and it’s not just the recognition of diversity that always existed (although it is that). There really is more actually-existing diversity than there used to be.

In The Family, I use a figure with five simple household types to show family conformity increasing from 1900 to a peak in 1960 — and then increasing diversity after that. I’ve updated that now for the upcoming third edition of the book.

ch 2 household diversity.xlsx

In 2014, I wrote a report for the Council on Contemporary Families called “Family Diversity is the New Normal for America’s Children,” which generated some news coverage and a ridiculous appearance with Tucker Carlson on Fox & Friends. A key point was to demonstrate that the declining dominant family arrangement after 1960 — the male-breadwinner-homemaker family — was replaced by a diversity of arrangements rather than a new dominant form. Here I’ve updated one the main figures from that report, which shows that “fanning out from a dominant category to a veritable peacock’s tail of work-family arrangements.”

peacock family diversity update.xlsx

For this update, I take advantage of the great new IPUMS mother and father pointers to identify children’s (likely) parents, including same-sex couple parents who are cohabiting as well as those who are married. Census doesn’t collect multiple parent identifiers in the Decennial Census or American Community Survey, and IPUMS has tackled the issue of how to best presume or guess about these with a consistent and well-documented standard. In this figure, 0.42% of children ages 0-14 (about 250,000) are living in the households of their same-sex couple parents. I also rejiggered the other categories a little, but the basic story is the same.

I published a version of this figure for K-12 educators in Educational Leadership magazine in 2017. I wrote:

Today, teachers need to have a more inclusive mindset that recognizes the diversity of family structures. Although there are reasons for concern about some of the changes shown in the data, the driving factors have often been positive. For example, changes in family roles reflect increased educational and occupational opportunities for women and greater gender equality within families. Fathers are expected to play an active role in parenting—and usually do—to a much greater degree than they did half a century ago.

My advice to teachers is:

The key points of diversity in family experiences that teachers should watch for are family structure (such as who the student lives with), family trajectories (the transitions and changes in family structure), and family roles (who cares and provides for the student). Using principles from universal design, teachers can promote language and concepts that work for all students. Done right, this is an opportunity to broaden the learning experience for everyone—to teach that care, intimate relationships, and family structures can include people of different ages, genders, and familial connections.

So that’s my update.

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Man woman couple height, updated

I had a popular post in 2013 called, “Why taller-wife couples are so rare,” a title given it by my old Atlantic editor, who ran it under a picture of Nicole Kidman (5′ 11″) with her second shorter husband. I also put a version of it in my book Enduring Bonds, and reference it in The Family. In it I used data from the 2009 PSID to show that people are more likely to pair up as taller-man-shorter-woman than would be expected by chance. I’ve now updated it with the 2017 PSID data. This is a revised version of that post with the new data.

Men are bigger and stronger than women. That generalization, although true, doesn’t adequately describe how sex affects our modern lives. In the first place, men’s and women’s size and strength are distributions. Strong women are stronger than weak men, so sex doesn’t tell you all you need to know. Otherwise, as retired colonel Martha McSally put it with regard to the ban on women in combat positions, “Pee Wee Herman is OK to be in combat but Serena and Venus Williams are not going to meet the standard.”

Second, how we handle that average difference is a matter of social construction: We can ignore it, minimize it, or exaggerate it. In the realm of love and marriage, we so far have chosen exaggeration.

Consider height. The height difference between men and women in the U.S. is about 6 inches on average. But Michael J. Fox, at five feet, five inches, is shorter than almost half of all U.S. women today. On the other hand, at five-foot-ten, Michelle Obama is taller than half of American men. So how do people match up romantically, and why does it matter?

Because everyone knows men are taller on average, straight couples in which the man is shorter raise a problem of gender performance. That is, the man might not be seen as a real man, the woman as a real woman, if they don’t (together) display the normal pattern. To prevent this embarrassment, some couples in which the wife is taller might choose to be photographed with the man standing on a step behind the woman, or they might have their wedding celebrated with a commemorative stamp showing her practically on her knees—as the British royals did with Charles and Diana, who were both the same height.

But the safer bet is just to match up according to the height norm. A study from Britain measured the height of the parents of about 19,000 babies born in 2000. They found that the woman was taller in 4.1 percent of cases. Then they compared the couples in the data to the pattern found if you scrambled up those same men and women and matched them together at random. In that random set, the woman was taller in 6.5 percent of cases. That means couples are more often man-taller, woman-shorter than would be expected by chance. Is that a big difference? I can explain.

For illustration, and to compare the pattern with the U.S., I used the 2017 Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a U.S. survey that includes height reported for 4,666 married couples. These are the height distributions for those spouses, showing a median difference of 6 inches.

nh1

Clearly, if these people married (and didn’t divorce) at random we would expect the husband to be taller most of the time. And that is what we find. Here is the distribution of height differences from those same couples:

nh2

The most common arrangement is the husband six inches taller, and a small minority of couples—2.7 percent—are on the left side of the line, indicating a taller wife.

But does that mean people are seeking out taller-husband-shorter-wife pairings? To answer that, we compare the actual distribution with a randomized outcome. I made 10 copies of all the men and women in the data, scrambled them up, and paired them at random. They I superimposed the two distributions — observed and random — which allows us to see which arrangements are more or less common in the actual pairings than we would expect by chance:

nh3

Now we can see that from same-height up to man-8-inches-taller, there are more couples than we would expect by chance. And below same-height—where the wife is taller—we see fewer in the population than we would expect by chance. There also are relatively few couples at the man-much-taller end of the spectrum—at 9 inches or greater—where the difference apparently becomes awkward, a pattern also seen in the British study. In the random distribution, we would expect 10 percent of couples to have a taller wife, but we only see 7 percent in that range in the observed data.

You could look at this as people marrying to conform more closely to a norm of husbands being 6 inches taller, because there is reduction in both tails. But that left tail just happens to be pulled down right after you get to taller wives, so you could also call it a taller-man norm.

Humans could couple up differently, if they wanted to. If it were desirable to have a taller-woman-shorter-man relationship, it could be much more common. In this sample, 27 percent of women could marry a shorter man, if they all insisted on it. Instead, people seem to exaggerate the difference by seeking out taller-man-shorter-woman pairings for marriage (or maybe the odd taller-woman couples are more likely to divorce, which would produce the same result).

What difference does it make? When people—and here I’m thinking especially of children—see men and women together, they form impressions about their relative sizes (and related capacities). Because people’s current matching process reduces the number of woman-taller pairings, our thinking is skewed that much more toward assuming men are bigger.


I put the Stata code for this analysis up here.

Thanks to Sebastian Karcher, who figured out for me that 34 percent of women could marry a shorter man.

Special thanks to Jeff Spies, who talked me down on Twitter the other night when I thought the results were all different, and then went and got the data and showed me that I was wrong, which led me to fix it, in the process restoring my faith in the resilience of patriarchy.

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New working paper: The rising marriage mortality gap among Whites

I wrote a short working paper on U.S. mortality trends for the last decade. You can go straight to the paper on SocArXiv, or the code and output, if you want the full version.

The issue is that premature mortality has been rising for Whites, partly because of the opioid epidemic and also from suicide and alcohol, and also from other causes related to stress and hardship. (See, e.g., Case and Deaton, and Geronimus.) And a recent NCHS report showed that mortality nationally declined much more for married people since 2010.

So I got the Mortality Multiple Cause Files from the National Center for Health Statistics, for two years: 2007 and 2017. These are a complete set of death certificates, which include race/ethnicity, marital status, and education. I linked these to the American Community Survey, to create age-specific mortality rates by age, sex, marital status, and education, for non-Hispanic Whites, Hispanics, and Blacks, in the ages 25-74 (old enough to finished with college, but too young to die).

The basic result is that virtually all of the growth in premature death is among Whites, and further among non-married Whites. (Whites still dies less than Blacks, and more than Hispanics, at each age and marital status.)

Here is the figure of age-specific mortality rates, by race/ethnicity, sex, and marital status for 2007 and 2017. At the bottom of each column I calculated “marriage mortality ratios,” which are how much more likely single people are to die than married people. Note these death rates are deaths per 10,000, but they’re on a log scale so you can see changes where rates are very low.

f2

In the figure you can see how much the marriage mortality ratio jumped up, for Whites only. Now, at the most extreme, single White men age 35-39 are more than 4-times more likely to die than married White men (that’s in the bottom left).

Then I zoom into Whites specifically, and do the same thing for four levels of education:

f3

In the lowest education group of Whites (the far left), mortality rates for married and single people increased similarly, so the marriage mortality ratio didn’t increase. However, for the other education levels, death rates increased for single people more than married people, so the ratio increased (across the bottom). Even among White college graduates, there were increases in mortality for single people. I did not expect that.

My bottom line is that marriage is taking an ever-more prominent place in the social status hierarchy, and now we can add growing mortality inequality, at least among Whites, to that pattern.

Early version, comments welcome!

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Why we need open science in demography, and how we can make it happen

“Why we need open science in demography, and how we can make it happen” is the title of a talk I gave at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research yesterday, as part of an open science workshop they hosted in Rostock, Germany. (The talk was not nearly as definitive as the title.)

The other (excellent) keynote was by Monica Alexander. I posted the slides from my talk here. There should be a video available later. The organizing committee for the event is working to raise the prominence of open science discussions at the Institute, and consider practices and policies they might adopt. We had a great meeting.

As an aside, I also got to hear an excellent tutorial by E. F. Haghish, who has written Markdoc, a “literate programming” (markdown) package for Stata, which is very cool. These are his slides.

rostock talk 2rostock group shot

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AEI panel on ‘demographic decline’

I was on a panel at the American Enterprise Institute, titled, “Demographic decline: National crisis or moral panic?” The event featured Lyman Stone, who argued that “demographic decline” in the U.S. is a national crisis, and my reply. Nick Eberstadt from AEI also offered comments. The moderator was AEI’s Karlyn Bowman.

The video of the event (which was on CSPAN) is below.

In my presentation I used the projections and other material I described earlier, here (where you can also link to the data and package I used). The gist of my talk is that with immigration we don’t have an issue of declining population.

I also emphasized the political implications of catastrophic “demographic decline” talk, which are based on a combination of doomsday demographics and increasing race/ethnic diversity. For that part I included these two figures, which I worked up for the next edition of my textbook. The first shows Census Bureau projections of the U.S. population by race/ethnicity, which is the basis for the White supremacist panic. (Important caveat about this figure is the assumptions about the ethnic identity of the descendants of today’s Latinos, see Richard Alba.)

re-forecast

For the politics of immigration, which is a giant topic, I presented this very simple figure showing the rise of Latin American and Asian immigration since 1965.

imre-history

Here is the video on YouTube. If you prefer the CSPAN production style (or don’t want to give AEI click), theirs is here. My talk is 15 minutes, starting at 13:40.

Happy to hear your responses, including on the dicey issue of whether to participate in an AEI event.

(In the YouTube comments, the first person calls me a “Jewish supremacist” and demands to know my view on Israeli immigration policy, and another says, “This guy is through and through an open borders globalist.” So that’s the dialogue, too.)

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The Coming Divorce Decline, Socius edition

“The Coming Divorce Decline, ” which I first posted a year ago, has now been published by the journal Socius.  Three thousand people have downloaded it from SocArXiv, I presented it at the Population Association, and it’s been widely reported (media reports), but now it’s also “peer reviewed.” Since Socius is open access, I posted their PDF on SocArXiv, and now that version appears first at the same DOI or web address (paper), while the former editions are also available.

Improvement: Last time I posted about it here I had a crude measure of divorce risk with one point each for various risk factors. For the new version I fixed it up, using a divorce prediction model for people married less than 10 years in 2017 to generate a set of divorce probabilities that I apply to the newly-wed women from 2008 to 2017:

…the coefficients from this model are applied to newly married women from 2008 to 2017 to generate a predicted divorce probability based on 2017 effects. The analysis asks what proportion of the newly married women would divorce in each of their first 10 years of marriage if 2017 divorce propensities prevailed and their characteristics did not change.

The result looks like this, showing the annual probability falling from almost 2.7% to less than 2.4%:

divprobnewlyweds

The fact that this predicted probability is falling is the (now improved) basis for my prediction that divorce rates will continue to decline in the coming years: the people marrying now have fewer risk factors. (The data and code for all this is up, too).


Prediction aside: The short description of study preregistration is “specifying your plan in advance, before you gather data.” You do this with a time-stamped report so readers know you’re not rejiggering the results after you collect data to make it look like you were right all along. This doesn’t always make sense with secondary data because the data is already collected before we get there. However, in this case I was making predictions about future data not yet released. So the first version of this paper, posted last September and preserved with a time stamp on SocArXiv, is like a preregistration of the later versions, effectively predicting I would find a decline in subsequent years if I used the same models — which I did. People who use data that is released on a regular schedule, like ACS, CPS, or GSS, might consider doing this in the future.


Rejection addendumSociological Science rejected this — as they do, in about 30 days, with very brief reviews — and based on their misunderstandings I made some clarifications and explained the limitations before sending it to Socius. Since the paper was publicly available the whole time this didn’t slow down the progress of science, and then I improved it, so I’m happy about it.

Just in case you’re worried that this rejections means the paper might be wrong, I’m sharing their reviews here, as summarized by the editor. If you read the current version you’ll see how I clarified these points.

* While the analyses are generally sensible, both Consulting Editors point out the paper’s modest contribution to the literature relative to Kennedy and Ruggles (2014) and Hemez (2017). The paper cites both of these papers but does not make clear how the paper adds to our understanding derived from those papers. If the relatively modest extension in the time frame in this paper is sociologically consequential, the paper does not make the case clearly.

* There is more novelty in the paper’s estimates of the annual divorce probability for newly-married women (shown in Table 3 and Figure 3), based on estimating a divorce model for the most recent survey year, and then applying the coefficients from that model to prior years. This procedure was somewhat difficult for the readers to follow, but issues were raised, most notably the question of the sensitivity of the results to the adjustments made. As one CE noted, “Excluding those in the first year of marriage is problematic as newlyweds have a high rate of divorce. Also, why just married in the last 10 years? Consider whether married for the first time vs remarried matters. Also, investigate the merits of an age restriction given the aging of the population Kennedy and Ruggles point to.”

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Against the generations, with video

I had the opportunity to make a presentation at the National Academies to the “Committee on the Consideration of Generational Issues in Workforce Management and Employment Practices.” If you’ve followed my posts about the “generation” terms and their use in the public sphere you understand how happy this made me.

The committee is considering a wide array of issues related to the changing workforce — under a contract from the Army — and I used the time to address the uses and misuses of cohort concepts and analysis in analyzing social change.

In the introduction, I said generational labels, e.g., “Millennials”:

encourage what’s bad about social science. It drives people toward broad generalizations, stereotyping, click bait, character judgment, and echo chamber thinking. … When we give them names and characters we start imposing qualities onto populations with absolutely no basis, or worse, on the basis of stereotyping, and then it becomes just a snowball of clickbait confirmation bias. … And no one’s really assessing whether these categories are doing us any good, but everyone’s getting a lot of clicks.

The slides I used are here in PDF. The whole presentation was captured on video, including the Q&A.

From my answer to the last question:

Cohort analysis is really important. And the life course perspective, especially on demographic things, has been very important. And as we look at changes over time in the society and the culture, things like how many times you change jobs, did you have health insurance at a certain point in your life, how crowded were your schools, what was the racial composition of your neighborhood or school when you were younger — we want to think about the shadow of these events across people’s lives and at a cultural level, not just an individual level. So it absolutely is important. … That’s a powerful way of thinking and a good opportunity to apply social science and learn from it. So I don’t want to discourage cohort thinking at all. I just want to improve it… Nothing I said should be taken to be critical of the idea of using cohorts and life course analysis in general at all.

You know, this is not my most important work. We have bigger problems in society. But understanding demographic change, how it relates to inequality, and communicating that in ways that allow us to make smarter decisions about it is my most important work. That’s why I consider this to be part of it.

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Fertility rate implications explained

(Sorry for the over-promising title; thanks for the clicks.)

First where we are, then projections, with figures.

For background: Caroline Hartnett has an essay putting the numbers in context. Leslie Root has a recent piece explaining how these numbers are deployed by white supremacists (key point: over-hyping the downside of lower fertility rates has terrible real-world implications).

Description

The National Center for Health Statistics released the 2018 fertility numbers yesterday, showing another drop in birth rates, and the lowest fertility since the Baby Boom. We are continuing a historical process of moving births from younger to older ages, which shows up as fewer births in the transition years. I illustrate this each year by updating this figure, showing the relative change in birth rates by age since 1989:

change in birthrates by age 1989-2016.xlsx

Historically, postponement was associated with reduction in lifetime births — which is what really matters for population trends. When people were having lots of children, any delay reduced the total number. With birth rates around two per woman, however, there is a lot more room for postponement — a lot of time to get to two. (At the societal level, both reduction and postponement are generally good for gender equality, if women have good health and healthcare.)

This means that drops in what we demographers call “period” fertility (births right now) are not the same as drops in “completed” fertility (births in a lifetime), or falling population in the long run. The period fertility measure most often used, the unfortunately named total fertility rate (TFR), is often misunderstood as an indicator of how many children women will have. It is actually how many births they are having right now, expressed in lifetime terms (I describe it in this video, with instructions).

Lawrence Wu and Nicholas Mark recently showed that despite several periods of below “replacement” fertility (in terms of TFR), no U.S. cohort of women has yet finished their childbearing years with fewer than two births per woman. Here is the completed fertility of U.S. women, by year of birth, as recorded by the General Social Survey. By this account, women born in the early 1970s (now in their late-forties by 2018) have had an average of 2.3 children.

Stata graph

Whether our streak of over-two completed fertility persists depends on what happens in in the next few years (and of course on immigration, which I’ll get to).

Last year at this time I summed up the fertility situation and concluded, “sell stock now,” because birth rates fell for women at all ages except over 40. That kind of postponement, I figured, based on history, reflected economic uncertainty and thus was an ill omen for the economy. The S&P 500 is up 5% since then, which isn’t bad as far as my advice goes. And I’m still bearish based on these birth trends (I bet I’ll be right before fertility increases).

Projection

It is very hard to have an intuitive sense of what demographic indicators mean, especially for the future. So I’ve made some projections to show the math of the situation, to get the various factors into scale. My point is to show what the current (or future) birth rates imply about future growth, and the relative role of immigration.

These projections run from 2016 to 2100. I made them using the Census Bureau’s Demographic Analysis and Population Projection System software, which lets me set the birth, death, and migration rates.* I started with the 2016 population because that’s the most recent set of life tables NCHS has released for mortality. Starting in 2018 I apply the current age-specific birth rates.

First, the most basic projection. This is what would happen if birth rates stayed the same as those in 2018 and we completely cut off all immigration (Projection A), or if we had net migration running at the current level of just under +1 million each year, using Census estimates for age and sex of the migrants (Projection B).

projections.xlsx

From the 2016 population of 323 million, if the birth rates by age in 2018 were locked in, the population would peak at 329 million in 2029 and then start to decline, reaching 235 million by 2100. However, if we maintain current immigration levels (by age and sex), the population would keep growing till 2066 before tapering only slightly. (Note this assumes, unrealistically, that the immigrants and their children have the same birth rates as the current population; they have generally been higher.) This the most important bottom line: there is no reason for the U.S. to experience population decline, with even moderate levels of immigration, and assuming no rebound in fertility rates. Immigration rates do not have to increase to maintain the current population indefinitely.

Note I also added the percentage of the population over age 65 on the figure. That number is about 16% now. If we cut off immigration and maintain current birth rates, it would rise to 25% by the end of the century, increasing the need for investment in old age stuff. If we allow current migration to continue, that growth is less and it only reaches 23%. This is going up no matter what.

To show the scale of other changes that we might expect — again, not predictions — I added a few other factors. Here are the same projections, but adding a transition to higher life expectancies by 2080 (using Japan’s current life tables; we can dream). In these scenarios, population decline is later and slower (and not just at older ages, since Japan also has lower child mortality).

projections.xlsx

Under these scenarios, with rising life expectancies, the old population rises more, to between 27% and 29%. Generally experts assume life expectancies will rise more than this, but that’s the assumed direction (now, unbelievably, in doubt).

Finally, I’ve been assuming birth rates will not fall further. If what we’re seeing now is fertility postponement, we wouldn’t expect much more decline. But what if fertility keeps falling? Here is what you get with the assumptions in Projection D, plus total fertility rates falling to 1.6, either by 2030 or 2050. As you can see, in the 1.6 to 1.8 range, the effects on population size aren’t great in this time scale.

projections.xlsx

Conclusion: We are on track for slowing population growth, followed by a plateau or modest decline, with population aging, by the end of the century, and immigration is a bigger question than fertility rates, for both population growth and aging.

Perspective

In a global context where more people want to come here than want to leave (to date), worrying about low birth rates tends to lend itself to myopic, religious, or racist perspectives which I don’t share. I don’t think American culture is superior, whites are in danger of extinction, or God wants us to have more children.

I do not agree with Dowell Myers, who was quoted yesterday as saying, “The birthrate is a barometer of despair.” That even as some people are having fewer children than they want, or delaying childbearing when they would rather not. In the most recent cohort to finish childbearing, 23% gave an “ideal number of children for a family to have” that was greater than the number they had, and that number has trended up, as you can see here:

Stata graph

Is this rising despair? As individuals, people don’t need to have children any more. Ideally, they have as many as they want, when they want, but they are expensive and time consuming and it’s not surprising people end up with fewer than they think “ideal.” Not to be crass about it, but I assume the average person also has fewer boats than they consider ideal.

And how do we know what is the right level of fertility for the population? As Marina Adshade said on Twitter, “Did women actually have a desire for more children in the past? Or did they simply lack the bargaining power and means to avoid births?”

However, to the extent that low birth rates reflect frustrated dreams, or fear and uncertainty, or insufficient support for families with children, of course those are real problems. But then let’s name those problems and address them, rather than trying to change fertility rates or grow the population, which is a policy agenda with a very bad track record.


* I put the DAPPS file package I created on the Open Science Framework, here. If you install DAPPS you can open this and look at the projections output, with graphs and tables and population pyramids.

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