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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Fertility rates in the U.S. are falling for reasons that go beyond the economic.

Why it matters: The demographic makeup of a country helps decide its future, but it also alters its present.

  • A country with fewer young children is one that will likely be culturally less hospitable to parents, which in turn could reinforce declining fertility rates.

By the numbers: 24.6 million Americans are under the age of 6.

  • That's the same number as in 1962, but whereas in that year, young children made up more than 13% of the population, today they comprise a little more than 7%.

Between the lines: The reasons behind falling fertility rates are many, from delayed or nonexistent marriages to changing life priorities to lack of financial assistance — a factor that won't be helped by the reduced provisions for paid family leave in the latest iteration of President Biden's Build Back Better plan.

  • But another reason is a changing cultural climate around children in many parts of the U.S.

Context: In a recent piece for The Week, Stephanie H. Murray outlined the "cultural weight dangling from the yoke of modern American parenthood," as parents of young children try to navigate a country that seems increasingly unsympathetic to their offspring.

  • As young children become rarer, the burden of caring for them becomes heavier — and thanks to the U.S.'s paltry family support system, that burden is largely borne by the parents themselves.
  • In another recent article, the writer Suzy Weiss profiled members of Gen Z who are so dedicated to the childless life — whether out of personal preference or concern about a climate apocalypse — that they've decided to undergo sterilization.

Our thought bubble: In any normally functioning market, a shortage of something will induce efforts to increase demand — but that only happens if people actually want the good in question.

  • That increasingly doesn't seem to be the case in much of the U.S., and especially among young people in their prime childbearing years.
  • Gen Z has a sense that “humans were a mistake," Clay Routledge, an existential psychologist at North Dakota State University, told Weiss.

The bottom line: Politics and economics matter to fertility, but cultural factors may outweigh it all.

Go deeper

Oct 30, 2021 - Health

The kids really aren't OK

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

The number of children struggling with mental health issues has skyrocketed amid the pandemic, and the crisis isn't abating as life returns to normal.

Why it matters: Many children won't just bounce back to normal on their own, experts say, and will need additional care and support in their homes, schools and broader communities.

3 hours ago - Health

Meta removes over 600 accounts linked to COVID disinformation effort by China

Facebook's corporate headquarters campus in Menlo Park, California. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

Meta announced Wednesday it has removed over 600 Facebook and Instagram accounts linked to a Chinese influence operation that claimed the U.S. was pressuring the World Health Organization (WHO) to blame COVID on China.

Why it matters: Though Meta said the network was unsuccessful, it marks yet another COVID disinformation campaign instigated by China in an effort to discredit the U.S.

Stacey Abrams launches second campaign for Georgia governor

Photo: Eze Amos/Getty Images

Stacey Abrams, voting rights activist and former 2018 candidate for Georgia governor, is running for the position again in 2022. Abrams would be the first Black female governor in the country.

Why it matters: Abrams caught national attention in 2018 by narrowly losing an election to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in a state held firmly by the GOP for nearly two decades.