California’s birth rate falls to lowest level ever, new data show

California’s birth rate dropped to its lowest ever in 2016, according to data released by the state’s Department of Finance.

Between July 2015 and July of this year, there were 12.42 births per 1,000 Californians. The last time birth rates came close to being that low was during the Great Depression, when they hit 12.6 in 1933.

The current low birth rate is part of a years-long downward trend that likely stems from Californians increasingly attending college and taking longer to graduate, said Walter Schwarm, a demographer at the Department of Finance. When they do complete their schooling, they’re interested in taking some time to pursue their careers or other goals, he said.

“Eventually you think about having a child and by this point in time you’re in your early 30s,” he said. Because that’s also when women’s fertility begins to decrease, they end up having fewer children than if they’d started in their 20s, he said.

Schwarm said he expects the birth rate will continue to be low for the next few years — and maybe will drop a little further.

That will likely change, however, when people born in the late 1980s and 1990s begin having children as they approach their 30s. People who are now in their mid- to late 20s attended college around the time of the recession and were likely primarily focused on finding jobs, he said.

“They didn’t have an easy time of it when they came out of college,” he said.

But they’re a giant cohort — 1990 had the most births in California history, with 1991 and 1992 close behind. So when they do decide to have children, it will likely affect the state’s overall birth rate, Schwarm said.

“That will bring everything back up,” he said.

Nationally, the birth rate is also at a record low.


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