Why “More Fertile” Doesn’t Mean “More Intact Families”

In Uncategorized on June 15, 2013 at 12:23 am


Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is a lightning rod of controversy today after lauding America’s immigrant women for being “more fertile” than native-born women at a “Faith and Freedom Coalition” event.  Now, let’s dissect this debate and try to distill truth and justice.

First, the fact that Bush used the word “fertile” was quickly analyzed by some diligent reporters, some of whom immediately consulted the dictionary and concluded that Bush intended to use the biological sense of “fertile,” which would mean “more capable of reproduction.”  However, in the statistical sense, “fertility” is the term used to designate “births per woman,” which would make more sense as the intended meaning behind Bush’s choice of words.  This understanding was identified by CNN commentator Jake Tapper.

However, this opens a whole new road less traveled which shall undoubtedly make all the difference now as we walk down its uncertain path.  While immigrant women do have higher rates of fertility than native-born women in America, it is also true that fertility rates among immigrant women dramatically dropped according to a Pew Research Center study published in November of 2012.  While native-born women between the ages of 15 and 44 had a fertility rate of 58.9 per 1,000 women, foreign born (i.e. immigrant) women had a fertility rate of 87.8 per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years.  The combined average for all women in the United States was 63.2 children per 1,000 women.  Yet immigrant women had the largest drop in fertility rates, which was a 14% reduction compared to the 6% reduction for native-born women in America.  What else does fertility reveal?  These statistics cannot be presented in a vacuum.

Indeed, on the global scale, Niger is the “most fertile” nation in the entire world, with each woman bearing an average of 7.1 children.  Also in the “Top Ten” for most fertile countries are Somalia and Afghanistan.  Ethiopia comes in at #14, Syria is at #72, Mexico is #99, and the United States is a distant #122 with an average of 2.06 children born per woman.  Puerto Rico comes in at #177 with an average of 1.64 children born per woman in this U.S. territory.  The World Bank has prepared a comparative chart by country for the years 1980-2012 for those wishing to learn more about fertility trends.  The world’s fertility rate is an average 2.47 children per woman, which means that the United States is even below the world average.

Yet another factor to consider is infertility; that is, the number of women who have “impaired ability to get pregnant or carry a baby to term,” formally referred to as “impaired fecundity.”  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 10.9% of all women in the United States aged 15-44 have “impaired fecundity.”  That is a significant number; interestingly, 40.8% of woman bearing children were unmarried — also a significant number.

Finally, because these fertility statistics start counting from age 15, these statistics cannot neglect to address teen pregnancy rates as well — how “fertile” are they?  According to data from the CDC, the birth rate for women aged 15-19 was 34.2 live births per 1,000 women, which is a rate of 3.4%.  Compared to other countries, the United States reportedly has the highest teenage pregnancy rate of 20 other top industrialized nations in the world.  According to this same report, Mississippi is the State with “more fertile” teenage women, with its teen pregnancy rate of 64.4 children per 1,000 women aged 15-19 — slightly higher than the average rate for all pregnancies nationwide for the 15-44 age group.

What does all of this mean?  Jeb Bush correctly noted that immigrant women have a higher fertility rate than native-born women; however, he neglected to mention the purported reasons for why the immigrant fertility rate is dropping so dramatically.  One sociologist named William H. Frey opined that, “‘When you hear about a decrease in the birthrate, you don’t expect Latinos to be at the forefront of the trend.’  Mr. Frey feels that the decrease is more about the aspirations of young Latinos to join the middle class, rather than being affected by a poor economy.”  When it comes to teenage pregnancies however, “Indeed, while the share of births to teenage mothers has dropped over the past two decades across the country, the highest teenage birth share is among native-born Hispanics.”

Of course, raising children is expensive and demands that caregivers make sacrifices.  So it follows that the drop in fertility rates was also attributed to the economic recession, as families sought to reassess priorities and escape or at least mitigate the effects of poverty.  There is also the issue of infertility, for which no woman can be disparaged.  Finally, if fertility is, standing on its own, an indicator of strong economic vitality and promise, then it would appear that Niger, Afghanistan, and Somalia are role models for America to look towards for guidance, as is the State of Mississippi a guide for other States as well.  Yet Niger is a country with 63% of its entire population living below the poverty line, and Mississippi has the highest poverty rate of all 50 States.  The clear answer is that high fertility rates are not evidence per se of strong family values or business acumen, as Bush improperly asserts.

While his plain words were factually accurate, they obscured the larger point which he could have made by invoking George Santayana: “The family is one of nature’s masterpieces.”


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