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ALARMING TREND: DECLINING NUMBER OF BLACK BIRTHS PDF Print E-mail

Analysis of Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2006

by Johnny Hunter

 

The total fertility rate in the United States – the projected number of live births over the average woman’s lifetime – dipped below the theoretical “replacement level” of 2.11 for the first time in 1972.  Ever since then, Americans have failed to reproduce in sufficient numbers to replace themselves.  To put that another way, except for the beneficial effects of immigration on our population, we have been on the road to extinction for more than thirty years.

 

But while the total fertility rate has never broken above the critical biological barrier of 2.11 lifetime live births per mother, it did exceed 2.00 six years in a row from 1989 to 1994, and again for five straight years from 1999 to 2003, the last year for which data is published.  In other words, for about the past fifteen years American fertility has been only very slightly below the extinction line, a vast improvement over the 1970s, when the TFR plunged as low as 1.738 in 1976.

 

 

The recent resurgence in fertility may be more than a temporary fluke.  This is because the total fertility rate for white women, which fell off a cliff in the early 1970s (from 2.48 in 1970 to 1.88 in 1973), is showing a long-term trend toward recovery.  Whites still comprise a majority in the population and a majority among women of child-bearing years, so a trend in this demographic sector is particularly significant.  The Total Fertility Rate for white American women stayed below 1.80 for fourteen straight years, from 1973 to 1986, but rose above that line in 1987 and, with some very minor fluctuations, has continued to increase.  In 1999 the TFR for whites broke above the 2.00 mark and it has remained above that level (but still below the theoretical replacement line of 2.11) ever since then.

 

That is demographic good news.  Even though the white population in the United States is still not growing (leaving aside immigration), the deep trough in the white birth rate has come to an end and whites are very nearly replacing themselves.  It is entirely possible that the white TFR could break above the replacement level and there is no sign that it will decline from its present near-replacement level.

 

The recent resurgence in fertility may be more than a temporary fluke.  This is because the total fertility rate for white women, which fell off a cliff in the early 1970s (from 2.48 in 1970 to 1.88 in 1973), is showing a long-term trend toward recovery.  Whites still comprise a majority in the population and a majority among women of child-bearing years, so a trend in this demographic sector is particularly significant.  The Total Fertility Rate for white American women stayed below 1.80 for fourteen straight years, from 1973 to 1986, but rose above that line in 1987 and, with some very minor fluctuations, has continued to increase.  In 1999 the TFR for whites broke above the 2.00 mark and it has remained above that level (but still below the theoretical replacement line of 2.11) ever since then.

 

That is demographic good news.  Even though the white population in the United States is still not growing (leaving aside immigration), the deep trough in the white birth rate has come to an end and whites are very nearly replacing themselves.  It is entirely possible that the white TFR could break above the replacement level and there is no sign that it will decline from its present near-replacement level.

 

But there is another part of the story that is far more sobering.  Black Americans have always had a higher fertility rate than whites.  During the 1970s, when the birth rate among whites was lagging to all-time lows and when immigration from Europe was reduced to a trickle, black Americans were still maintaining a positive fertility level. This biological advantage produced a slow but discernible increase in the black percentage of the total population and hence an increase in black political strength.  And even though the black fertility rate dropped to close to the replacement level in the early 1980s and remained close to that level through most of the decade, blacks along with whites enjoyed a rebound in fertility in the late 1980s that carried on through the next decade.  Consistently, black fertility was substantially higher than white fertility, as the following data indicate:

 

Year                White TFR                  Black TFR                   Total TFR

            1970                2,385                           3.067                           2.480

            1975                1.686                           2.276                           1.774

            1980                1.773                           2.177                           1.840

            1985                1.787                           2.109                           1.844

            1990                2.003                           2.480                           2.081

            1995                1.955                           2.128                           1.978

 

But through the late 1990s the TFR among blacks once again dropped to near or below the replacement level.  In 2002, the last year for which comparative data are available, something entirely new happened.  For the first time ever, the total fertility rate among blacks fell below 2.00 below that of whites (2.028).  Not only were black Americans not replacing themselves but their natural rate of population decline is steeper than that of white Americans.  If the pattern evident in 2002 were to continue, then both black and white Americans would dwindle to extinction, but blacks would disappear sooner.

 

Now the reasons for the sub-normal fertility of Americans over the past three decades are perfectly evident.  Since the 1960s increasingly effective contraceptive technologies have been developed.  Since 1970, contraceptive programs have been heavily funded and promoted by the federal government.  And in 1973, unrestricted commercialized abortion was imposed on the entire nation by the Supreme Court.  Compared with the pre-1970 era, these factors have produced substantially lower birth rates and substantially higher proportions of births outside of marriage.

 

Lower total fertility and higher proportions of births out of wedlock have affected all Americans, regardless of race.  But what can explain the recent disappearance of the demographic advantage black Americans have had over white Americans for as long as statistics have been collected?

 

The answer lies in the abortion statistics.  All along, blacks have had a far higher abortion rate than whites.  While blacks have represented about 15 to 20 percent of the women of child-bearing age (The percentage has gradually increased over the years because of the historically higher birth rate among blacks.), the abortion rate has consistently been roughly twice as high as that among whites   Consequently, blacks have accounted for approximately thirty to forty percent of all abortions. During most of the 1975 to 1995 period, the annual number of abortions totaled approximately 1.5 million, of which approximately one million were committed on white mothers and approximately half a million upon black mothers.  During most of that time, there was approximately one abortion among whites for every three live births and two for every three live births among blacks.  The numbers fluctuated every year, but the fluctuations were not very great until the mid-1990s.  A comparison of the race-specific abortion statistics for 1980, 1990 and 2000 makes the point:

 

Year                Number (000s)              Rate/1000 women                 Ratio/1000 births

                        W        B         T            W         B         T                   W        B         T

 

1980              1,094      460    1,554       24.3     56.5     29.3              376       642      428

1990              1,039      570    1,609       21.5     54.4     27.4              318       655      389

2000                733       580    1,313       15.0     45.7     21.1               230       676      324

 

Throughout the 1990s, the number of abortions committed on white mothers fell steadily, from over a million to fewer than 750,000 by the end of the decade, and that decline appears to be continuing.  This coincided with a slight increase in the number of live births among white women and an increase in the proportion of those births to unmarried mothers.  In other words, a significantly greater number of white women with untimely pregnancies were choosing life, and this tendency grew steadily stronger through the decade.  The strategy of reducing the number of abortions by providing pregnant mothers with the support they needed during and after pregnancy was working within the white population.

 

But there was no comparable decline in abortions among black mothers.  The total number of abortions to black mothers has remained fairly steady over the past fifteen years, ranging from 542,000 to 587,000 every year since 1987, while the ratio of abortions per 1,000 live birth has fluctuated no more widely than 648 per 1,000 to 699 per 1,000 during those years. 

 

The overall pregnancy rate among black women has declined since the mid-1990s, but that has been offset by the increase in the total number of black women of child-bearing years, from about eleven and a half million in 1995 to about thirteen million in 2002.  As a result, the total number of pregnancies, births and abortions has remained fairly steady while the rates per 1,000 women have all declined slightly.  This the abortion rate among black women has dropped from about 55 per 1000 annually, where it hovered throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, to about 45 per 1000.  This, however, is entirely a function of the decline in the pregnancy rate among black women, a phenomenon has may have numerous causes, but among them the fact that black women are about half again more likely than white women to be surgically sterilized and two to three times more likely to me using the newest contraceptive drugs such as Depo-Provera, Norplant and Lunelle.  The new contraceptive technologies are dramatically more effective in reducing pregnancies than any older methods because they operate over lengthy period of time with virtually no possibility of user error.

 

The reduced abortion rate among whites has clearly been a contributing factor in the rebound in the race-specific birth rate and total fertility rate within the white population.  This is clear not only from the increased number and rate of live births to white mothers, but especially to the higher proportion of such births to unmarried mothers, many of which are replacing abortions.

 

The fact that there has been no comparable reduction in the incidence of abortion is the key reason why the total fertility rate among whites has surpassed that among blacks for the first time in history.  Given the present trends, the TFR among whites may very well rise above the replacement level, creating the possibility for a long-term increase in the white population without immigration.  This would reverse a pattern of more than thirty years of sub-replacement fertility among white Americans.

 

On the other hand, there has been no sign of a comparable reduction in the incidence of abortion among black Americans.  The continuation of a high abortion rate along with a significant reduction in the overall pregnancy rate among black women has brought about an unprecedented situation in which the level of black fertility is even lower than that of whites.  Unless the abortion rate among blacks begins to decline, the relative increase that blacks enjoyed in the 1960 to 1990 period as a percentage of the overall American population will begin to reverse itself and black Americans are destined slowly to dwindle away as an element of the American population.

 

Note: All statistical information in this paper is found in the Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2006, Tables 77, 82, 90, and 93.

http://www.census.gov/statab/www/

 

 

 
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