The fertility rate in the United States fell to a record low for a second straight year extending a deep decline that began in 2008 with the Great Recession. The fertility rate fell to 60.2 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age, down 3 percent from 2016, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. It was the largest single-year decline since 2010, when families were still feeling the effects of a weak economy.
Social forces are at work. Women are postponing marriage, becoming more educated and are more likely to be the primary breadwinners for their households. That explains the other phenomenon: while most babies are born to women in their 20s and 30s, the continued rise of older moms reflects a long-term shift to delayed childbearing. Last year’s births were “the fewest in 30 years.” In fact, “birthrates declined for every age group except women in their early 40s.” Births among women ages 40-44 have been rising since the early 1980s and kept rising in 2017, even as the overall U.S. birth rate fell to a record low, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in its latest report. Births in women older than 45 held steady.
It is true that fertility doctors can offer older prospective moms more help today than in the past. But biology still imposes limits. A woman’s natural ability to become pregnant begins a steep decline around age 37, reaching odds of less than 10% a month by age 40, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
When women undergo in vitro fertilization with their own eggs, the chance of having a baby in each attempt falls from 41.5% before age 35 to 12.4% at ages 41–42, the college says. After age 44, the success rate is just 1%, which is why the vast majority of women who have babies after that age, celebrities included, are using eggs from younger donors. Using donor eggs increases success rates to those of younger women. But it means giving up a genetic link to the child and paying more for the procedure. One work-around — freezing one’s own eggs at a younger age — is catching on among some women.
The other social consequence of the declining birth rate is that the declining birthrate will eventually lead to a smaller pool of young workers paying into Social Security and Medicare.
At Reproductive Partners we can offer solutions to women who want to delay childbirth through egg freezing, and for those who have already reached an age when a successful pregnancy is unlikely, we can help through egg donation.