Immigrant Birth Rates Slowing—But Population Momentum Continues

Published on December 18th, 2012

By Joe Guzzardi
December 4, 2012

In most immigration-related research reports, the media focuses on the positive and either ignores or marginalizes the negative. Such is the case with the Pew Hispanic Center’s Birth Rate Falls to a Record Low, Decline Is Greatest among Immigrants. Pew based its findings on data collected from 1990-2010 National Center for Health Statistics and the Census Bureau fertility patterns.

Fewer births in an already overpopulated nation is obviously encouraging. But with population increasing at an unsustainable 2.5 million new people annually, understanding the major contributor to that growth is the key to coping with its consequences.

Almost all population increase comes directly from immigration and the American-born children to recent immigrants. Foreign-born women have, on average, more children than native-born; Pew identified the actual ratio at 87.8 children [immigrant] compared to 58.9 [native] per 1,000 births. Pew also pointed out that the birth rate for foreign-born mothers is 50 percent higher than native-born. Yet the casual newspaper reader would never know it because the media tortured the data to put the most positive possible spin on it.

In bold print on the Pew report’s first page: “… [Immigrant women] still account for a disproportionate share of 2010 births.” In fact, foreign-born mothers give birth at a share significantly higher than their representation in the overall population. Of the 4 million 2010 births, 23 percent were to immigrant mothers even though the nation’s overall immigrant population is only 13 percent.

Totally ignored from the Pew study is that despite the recent drop in Mexican illegal immigration, the largest source country for U.S. immigrants, no decline in the numbers of childbearing age occurred. As more immigrants who will one day become mothers enter, what’s known as population momentum goes into effect.

Briefly defined, population momentum means that even when childbearing drops to replacement level, generally considered to be 2.1 children, population will continue to increase for decades. In other words, population stability is a long term goal, a concept that eluded the media’s coverage. For more than 20 years, journalists have maintained a stony silence about population growth which they define as a sub-rosa effort to limit immigration.

Another important explanation for foreign-born birth patterns is that minority populations are younger than whites and are therefore more likely to have children. The national median age in 2011 was 37.3; non-Hispanic whites have the oldest median age, 42.3 in 2011; Hispanics the youngest, 27.6. Without question, immigration and population are linked. For one thing, many Mexican, Central and South Americans come to the United States, mostly illegally, for the sole purpose of having children. Not only do their newborns automatically become citizens but also taxpayers provide pre-and post-natal care and subsidize ongoing benefits like public education.

The economy has also played a major role in declining birth rates especially among poor immigrants. In research conducted during the boom year 2007, the Public Policy Institute of California concluded that because of its high immigrant composition the state had higher birth rates than any nation in the developed world.

Today, however, because of the employment and foreclosure crisis, Californians’ fertility is at the lowest point since the 1920s Great Depression. Immigrants’ children are having fewer offspring than their parents. The biggest reason: the average cost to raise a child from birth to age 18 is $225,000—tough to do when parents are jobless.

To truly stabilize population over the long term, immigration must be strictly controlled at the border and with internal mechanisms in place that will help enforce existing laws. Otherwise, the seemingly encouraging reports like Pew’s published from one year to the next are meaningless.


Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been syndicated since 1986. Contact him at [email protected]

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