World fertility rates—defined by the World Bank as “the number of children that would be born to a woman if she were to live to the end of her childbearing years and bear children in accordance with age-specific fertility rates of the specified year”—have been in steady decline since 1964. The United States had a 1% increase in births in 2021, up from the 4% drop in 2020, but is still well below both the pre-pandemic level and the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman (assuming no net migration).
Many factors are reported to contribute to the declining US birth rate, among them being fears about climate change, increasing cost of living, and other societal issues. In partnership with the Human Flourishing Lab at the Archbridge Institute, the Harris Poll surveyed a representative sample of US adults on their future plans and past decisions as they relate to having children.
Younger adults are still planning their families.
Four in 10 unmarried adults (43%) want to get married in the future; this increases to 65% among young adults (defined here as those aged 18-29). Two in 10 (23% and 21%, respectively) remain unsure. Three quarters (75%, vs 78% of those under the age of 30) believe that they are at least somewhat likely to find a partner to marry. Nearly half (45% and 46%, respectively) believe they are very likely to find a partner. One in 10 (7% and 8%, respectively) remain unsure.
Three in 10 US adults (28%) want to have a child (e.g., biologically, through adoption) in the future; this increases to 46% among current parents with a child under the age of 18. Similarly, twice as many (55%) of those under the age of 30 want to have a child in the future. One in 10 (14%, vs 14% of current parents with a child under 18 and 23% of adults under the age of 30) remain unsure. Among those who want to have a child in the future, 70% want to have 1-2 children (25% and 45%, respectively).
Those who do not have children and do not want to have a child in the future more often express concern about their personal situation, compared to external factors, as influencing their decisions:
- Personal independence: 54%
- Personal financial situation: 46%
- Work/life balance: 40%
- Housing prices: 33%
- Safety: 31%
- US politics: 31%
- Climate change: 28%
Younger adults more frequently than the general population agree that people should not have children due to anticipated harm it causes to others and the planet.
One in 5 US adults (20%) agree with the statement that people should stop having children because of the harm it causes (i.e. to other people, animals, or the environment). That number climbs to 1 in 4 among young adults (25%).
While one-third of US adults (34%) agree that “people should stop having children because their children’s quality of life will be poor,” that number increases among young adults (42%).
Lastly, while more than half of US adults (52%) are concerned about the impact of overpopulation on the planet, 58% of young adults share that concern.
This survey was conducted online in the United States by The Harris Poll from July 29, 2022 to August 1, 2022 among 1,054 US adults, aged 18+. Figures for age, sex, race and ethnicity, education, region, household income, and propensity to be online have been weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions within the US population. Respondents for this survey were selected from a pool of potential respondents who have agreed to participate in The Harris Poll’s online research. For this study, the sample data is accurate to within +/- 4.0 percentage points using a 95% confidence level.