Fertility in the United States

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Science  31 Oct 1986:
Vol. 234, Issue 4776, pp. 554-559
DOI: 10.1126/science.3532324


From the postwar high of 3.8 births per woman at the peak of the baby boom, the total fertility rate in the United States has fallen to 1.8, where it has remained unchanged for nearly a decade. This below-replacement level of fertility has, in recent decades, characterized most Western countries, some of which have shown declines to well below 1.5 births per woman. Were it not for the continued infusion of immigrants, the U.S. population, which already shows the aging characteristic of low fertility, would stop growing and begin to decline before the middle of the next century. The low fertility in the United States has been accomplished by a postponement of marriage and by the widespread use of contraception, with heavy reliance on surgical sterilization as a contraceptive method. Judging from the experience of other Western countries and from our own historical experience of two centuries of fertility decline interrupted only by the baby boom, as well as from the absence of social trends that would counteract those contributing to that decline, the prognosis is for a continued low level of fertility in the United States.