Mixed messages on state’s birthrate

The latest trends in California childbearing present a bewilderingly mixed picture. On one hand, teen birth rates are now the lowest ever recorded in the state. On the other hand, California’s 2.2 percent birth rate is higher than any developed nation. More than a half-million babies are born in the state each year, and this is now the largest single factor in California’s population growth.

Of course an increase in population does not automatically bode ill for the future of California. But when the trends definitely point to a substantially larger number of people of specific ages residing within state borders during the next several decades, adequate preparations must be made by the state’s leaders.

Many of these preparations will come with tough decisions about spending, which is why it is important to understand not only how large the population is expected to grow, but also where the most active growth will be found — which now in California is no longer directly from immigration.

Since 2000, the state’s population has grown by 3.3 million people, with all but 100,000 attributable to births, according the California Department of Finance. The state’s 1.5 million in new migration was just slightly more than enough to replace those lost to death. Now we also know the percentage of California teenagers becoming mothers has almost halved in 15 years — from 74 in to 38 per 1,000 — while the state percentage of women giving birth in their early 40s has tripled from 3.5 to 10.5 births per 1,000.

“Birth Rates in California,” the newest statistical study by the Public Policy Institute of California, points out that with all the social, economic and health problems historically associated with teen single-motherhood, a lower youth birthrate is very good news. And the increased willingness of California women to postpone marriage and childbearing would seem to indicate they are finding greater educational and career opportunities.

But even more meaningful to California’s future population totals, the PPIC analysis found large discrepancies in birth rates by ethnicity and race — and especially by whether the childbearing female group is U.S.-born. The numbers show that foreign-born women tend to have more children than women born in the U.S.

At 3.7 babies per woman,

foreign-born Latinas have California’s highest birth rate, well more than twice the rate of U.S.-born white and Asian women, while black women tend to have their babies earlier in life. Among U.S.-born Latinas, the birth rate is just about the state’s average and more than one-third lower than immigrant Latinas.

These current trends are likely to remain stable because California’s unique tradition of economic opportunity and attractive lifestyle will continue to be a magnet for incoming young adults of prime reproductive age, and four out of five children born in the state will not move away. So we need to be ready. Having more people living in California obviously requires more of everything, and having more school-age Californians will obviously require more schools.

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