Report explores factors behind state’s falling birth rate

As lawmakers and economic development leaders pursue strategies to grow the state’s workforce, a new report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum explores the factors behind Wisconsin’s falling birth rate.

The state’s birth rate is the lowest it’s been in 30 years, the report shows, and annual births and the fertility rate have both been on the decline.

“Given the state’s recent history of net out-migration, this trend deserves consideration by policy makers,” report authors say. “Together, those challenges could complicate efforts to grow the state’s workforce and its economy.”

Annual births in Wisconsin hit 72,757 in 2007 — a high point for the state — but fell to 66,593 by 2016, near a previous low set in 1997.

The fertility rate, which tracks births per 1,000 women of childbearing age, has largely gone down over the past 10 years. Aside from a slight increase since 2013, it’s been declining since 2007. In 2016, the state had 61.6 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44, down from 64.1 in 1989.

Also, Wisconsin has lost more residents to migration than it’s gained since the mid-2000s.

These trends, combined with an aging population, have led to a lower birth rate which could spell trouble for Wisconsin’s labor market in the future, report authors say.

In the past three decades, the state’s birth rate fell 22.3 percent, from 14.8 births per 1,000 residents in 1989 to 11.5 in 2016.

Citing recent state projections, report authors say Wisconsin’s working-age population between ages 20 and 64 will decline by 0.2 percent between 2010 and 2040, as the number of people at retirement age doubles.

“But these estimates may be too optimistic, since they assume the state will net nearly 300,000 residents through migration and that annual births will rise,” they add.

There are fewer women of childbearing age now than in 1989 — 1.08 million compared to 1.12 million nearly 30 years ago.

Compared to the rest of the country, Wisconsin’s birth rate ranks 38th of the states and is 5.6 percent below the national average. The state’s fertility rate, however, is only 0.7 percent lower than the national average.

Wisconsin isn’t alone in its birth rate decline. Since 1989, both the U.S. rate and the Wisconsin rate have fallen by similar percentages.

The report also notes that Pew Research Center has found states hit the hardest in the 2007-08 economic downturn were more likely to see large drops in fertility in following years.

“The coming years will clarify whether the recent drop in fertility is a temporary or lasting change,” report authors said.

See the report here:

–By Alex Moe