What Falling Fertility Rates Say About Immigration

October 24th 2015

Emma Bracy

America’s falling fertility rate might be a good reason to support more immigration.

According to a new report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, the fertility rate of American women has been falling since the economic downturn of 2008. Before then, it had been rising, the report said.

RELATED: The 2 Biggest Lies About Immigrants In the U.S.

Picture of multiracial baby

Typically, “fertility rates have declined during recessions and increased in the later years of expansions,” the report said. “However, a significant rise in fertility has not yet happened in the current expansion.” The general fertility rate is a demographic measure determined by the number of births per 1,000 women in a year.

For a population to replace itself, rather than decline, its general fertility rate must be above 60 births per 1,000 women, the report said. But the most recent data from the American Community Survey — an “ongoing survey that provides vital information on a yearly basis about our nation and its people” performed by the U.S. Census Bureau — estimates that our general fertility rate has dropped to 52 as of 2014.

RELATED: The Real Reason Young People Don't Want Kids

Millennials are an important part of the fertility rate discussion. There are a lot of 20-somethings: The Pew Research Center estimated the total number of millennials — people aged 18 to 34 — to be 75.3 million in 2015. But not a lot them are having babies: CNBC reported that birth rates among American women aged 20 to 29 have recently hit historic lows.

Nursing Baby

But economic decline may not be the only reason for the low rates. Women more than ever have the means to control whether — and when — they choose to reproduce. (Of course, this might not be the case if states continue to defund women’s health care provider Planned Parenthood: I’m looking at you, Texas).

RELATED: The Problem with the Way We Talk About Breastfeeding

So what does all this data mean? Based on births alone, America is slow-growing. It is also growing older: Fewer births and higher life expectancies mean that our population in general is aging. Don’t get me wrong: Old people are great. But young people help economies with things like growth and innovation.

This means that immigration can actually help to significantly ameliorate the low fertility rate problem.

Just consider a few of these facts concerning immigrants and the American economy from the Brookings Institution:

  • Immigrants’ productivity raises the U.S. Gross Domestic Product by an estimated $37 billion per year.
  • More than a quarter of U.S. technology and engineering businesses launched between 1995 and 2005 had a foreign-born founder.
  • In Silicon Valley, more than half of new tech startup companies were founded by foreign-born owners.
  • In 2005, companies founded by immigrants produced $52 billion in sales and employed 450,000 workers.
  • Nearly a quarter of the international patents filed from the United States in 2006 were based on the work of foreign-born individuals (more than half of whom received their highest degree from an American university).
  • Economists calculate that, as a result of immigration, 90 percent of native-born Americans with at least a high-school diploma have seen wage gains.
  • Historically, immigrants have made outsized contributions to American science and technology, with Albert Einstein perhaps the leading example. One-third of all U.S. winners of Nobel Prizes in medicine and physiology were born in other countries.
  • Far from "crowding out" native-born workers and depressing their wages, well-educated, entrepreneurial immigrants do much to create and support employment for Americans.

Immigrants also have relatively high fertility rates compared to women born in the U.S.

So don’t be fooled by Donald Trump's racist, anti-immigration comments. Immigration is good for America. And in times of global crisis such as what we are seeing with with Syrian refugees, it is also good for humanity.