Here’s a bit of interesting child-bearing news: last year, and for the first time since 1930, 40-somethings in British Columbia were more likely to give birth than were teens.
The chart to the right is drawn largely from data provided by the BC provincial statistics agency (see here for data since 1987). And if you you look closely at the lower right, you’ll see that the pink line (teen birth rates) has fallen in recent years, even as the maroon line (birth rates among 40-somethings) has inched up. In 2009, the two lines crossed, as birth rates for 40 something crept ahead of births births among BC teens.
But that’s a relatively small part of the province’s overall fertility picture. Looking at bigger and longer-term trends, two points leap out.
First and foremost, the baby boom—the era that defined “normal” for many of today’s political, economic, and cultural leaders—was truly an anomalous period in history. Birth rates simply skyrocketed in the middle of the last century, and then fell just as fast as they rose. Because of that fall, particularly among the under-30 set, a lot of hidden cultural assumptions about what’s “normal” just aren’t as relevant as they used to be. Some demographers now argue, for example, that the demand for detached single-family housing—the housing model that dominated the baby boom—has more or less peaked, as baby-boomers are starting to sell their suburban homes and as people spend more of their lives with no kids in the home. I’m sure that if you’re a home builder, that’s tough news to hear.
Second, you can see that BC women are clearly choosing smaller families later in life. As of 2009, the “total fertility rate” in the province stood at 1.5 lifetime births per woman. That’s actually a bit higher than it was in 2003, but historically it’s near its all-time low. The fall in teen births, relative to 40-somethings, is part of this trend, but the bigger part is the fall in 20-something births, relative to births among 30-somethings. (The blue and orange lines in the chart above crossed back in 2003.) As career and educational opportunities have opened up for women, and as access to safe contraception has widened, women have chosen to delay childbearing and to have fewer kids. And both of those trends have worked to slow the pace of population growth.
A last point of note here: in both BC and the Northwest states, teen births actually rose—slightly but unmistakeably—between 2004 and 2007. But starting in 2008 the trends started moving down again. It’s hard to peg the teen birth rates to any particular political trend, since the patterns were similar in both the US Northwest and in British Columbia—two areas that have very different political cultures. But regardless of the cause, it’s good to see at least preliminary news that teen births are on the wane again.