The U.S. birthrate hit a record low in 2020, defying predictions that COVID-19’s lockdown might actually increase births. Births now fall shy of the number that could be combined with immigration to keep the population level stable.

That has implications on economic growth or stagnation and raises questions about whether a smaller workforce can support a larger generation’s social safety net. A lower birthrate also impacts schools, the housing market and more.

Today, a Deseret News Event panel discussion explores how the United States compares to other countries that are also dealing with lagging birthrates, as well as possible solutions. The panel is moderated by Bethany Mandel, an American author, political commentator and Deseret News contributor. Panelists include Valerie M. Hudson, professor and director of the Program on Women, Peace and Security at Texas A&M University; demographer Lyman Stone, an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and research fellow at the Institute for Family Studies; and Lois M. Collins, who covers family policy and research at the Deseret News.

Low birthrates hit societies on two levels, according to Stone. Individuals may not be having the family size they want. But broader impacts on factors like the economy may also mean they’ll be forced to start working earlier and stay working longer just to survive financially.

The issue is global, not just affecting the United States, said Hudson, who noted countries have tried many approaches to bolster their birthrates. So far, she said, social supports alone have not been enough.

Stone counters that policy can help, but agrees that policy on its own is unlikely to reverse the trend.

In an often-lively discussion, panelists look at culture, “workism” vs. “familism,” immigration, and even pornography as contributors to the falling birthrate and debate how the trend might be reversed.

On this, they agree: Falling birthrates here and abroad are a serious problem.

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The joy of the big, messy family