Good News for the Future: More Babies!

Women are having more babies, finally. But is it enough?

Reading this story at USA Today, you would think that the main point of women having more babies is that it shows the recession has really ended.

Here’s another sign that the economy is rebounding: More people are having babies.

The rate of births among women ages 15 to 44 ticked up 1% from 2013 to 2014. That’s the first increase since 2007, the beginning of the recession, according to a study released Wednesday by theNational Center for Health Statistics.

The 3.98 million total births in 2014 was most since 2010.

Carl Haub, a senior demographer for the Population Reference Bureau, said he wasn’t surprised by the federal findings. Though the increase in fertility rate is small, he said, it could be indicative of a shifting trend. Haub said this demographic change aligns with an improving economy.

“The decline of the birth rate over the past few years can be attributed to the recession,” Haub told USA TODAY.

And so on.

People who think the primary significance of having more babies is a better economy are thinking of babies mainly as expenses. Babies require a lot of money so the fact that more people are having them must mean they feel better about spending.

But babies are not just consumers. They are future producers. This is why the decline in birthrates in the recession will be more damaging to the future economy than the recession itself in the present economy. Future producers will be missing from action.

So the real good news of babies is not just their indirect evidence (allegedly) that the recession is over and the economy is recovering. The real good news is that the economic damage fifteen to fifty-five years from now will not be as bad.

And how do we really know that these women are having babies because of the better economy? Maybe they are not having babies because they have realized there is no point in hoping for strong economic growth while they are still in their fertile years. Maybe the real news here is that people are adjusting to this anemic economy as the new normal and have decided to breed anyway.

If so, good for them!

As evidence of this possibility, note that even though USA Today smudged ages 15-44 together and said their birthrate is increasing, they also reported that teens are producing fewer babies:

The new study also found teen birth rates hit a historic low, with 24.2 births per 1,000 women – a 9% drop from 2013’s 26.2 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19.

The teen fertility rate has been on the decline for several years, falling more than 7% each year since 2007. The highest number of teen births ever was 644,708 in 1970. Now, the number sits at 249,067 births for 2014, which Hamilton called “amazing.”

The Verge confirms that it is older women who are ramping up the birth rate.

Women in their 30s and 40s are having more kids — and it’s showing up in the CDC’s statistics. Births among women in their 30s increased by 3 percent; for women in their 40s, by 2 percent. The change was apparent for women of all races, the researchers report — except among American Indian and Alaska Native women, who experienced a decrease. The proportion of births among older married women increased, while the proportion of unmarried younger women who gave birth went down.

This is a good start, but we need more. Perhaps as more older teens realize that four years of college is a needless debt burden and delay in life (as it is for many of them), we will see the surge in teen marriage and then teen pregnancy that will help produce a vibrant economy.

As it stands, having people get in the habit of waiting until they are thirty before starting to try to make babies is going to produce a weaker economy.