Which American racial group has the lowest fertility?

By Razib Khan | September 2, 2010 1:43 am

Update: Also see breakdowns among non-Hispanic white ancestry groups.

The really sad events around the Discovery Channel hostage situation, and the subsequent death of James Lee, made me wonder a little bit about total fertility rates. Lee seems to have had sentiments very similar to some of the anti-humanists within the Deep Ecology movement. Unlike the mainstream Left these elements of Deep Ecology are greatly concerned about the high fertility rates of non-developed societies and of the immigrants from those societies in a proximate sense (that is, the fertility is of a concern foremost because of the direct immediate environmental footprint, rather than a symptom of broader societal underdevelopment). I’ve probed the international differences in total fertility rates before, but what about in the United States? You probably won’t be surprised which segment of the population has the highest fertility, but what about the lowest? The US Census Bureau tracks these sorts of things in detail. So according to the Census Bureau the TFR’s in 2008 were:

2.09 – All races
1.84 – Non-Hispanic white
2.11 – Non-Hispanic black
1.84 – American Indian, Native Alaskan
2.06 – Asian & Pacific Islander
2.99 – Hispanic

Yes, Native Americans have the same TFR as non-Hispanic whites! Total surprise to me. The profile in relation to within wedlock and out-of-wedlock differs between the groups a fair amount. Here are the percents born to unmarried mothers:

40.6% – All races
28.6% – Non-Hispanic white
72.3% – Non-Hispanic black
65.8% – American Indian, Native Alaskan
16.9% – Asian & Pacific Islander
52.5% – Hispanic

So Native Americans combine low total fertility with a high proportion of out-of-wedlock births. I actually found births per 1,000 trend lines broken down by Hispanic ethnic group. There’s an interesting pattern here:


As you can see, the “high Hispanic fertility rate” is really the high Mexican American fertility rate. Cuban Americans have fertility below non-Hispanic whites (Cuba’s TFR is 1.6, though Cuban Americans are highly unrepresentative of Cuba demographically and culturally somewhat isolated from the island), and Puerto Ricans seem to track black Americans. The latter aligns with the sociology I’ve seen that indicates American Puerto Ricans share many norms and vital stats with the blacks next to whom they settled in Manhattan (Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico have a TFR which is the same as non-Hispanic whites). Interestingly, the Native and non-Hispanic white fertility has only converged in the last generation or so. One issue to consider is that there’s been a large increase in the number of Americans identifying as Native American since the 1980s, so this may have altered the fertility simply because of a change in the demographic composition of those who identify as Native American. Another point is that Mexican Americans have a TFR which is much higher than in Mexico, which is now around ~2 (though if you look up the data, you’ll see some underdeveloped southern Mexican states are around ~3).

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Data Analysis
MORE ABOUT: Data, Total Fertility

Comments (21)

  1. John Emerson

    It looks like your green and brown lines got switched at their intersection (Puerto Rican and Cuban).

    Of the groups graphed, only the Mexicans and the Asians include many recent immigrants.

  2. yeah, i think the sample size for those was small. i think the data is from the ACS, so it will bounce for smaller groups. and obviously none of the puerto ricans are immigrants. they’re all citizens to start with.

  3. dan

    wow, this is not good. mexicans have an INSANE amount of babies

  4. Lol, this posting could have been called “Stuff Hack Comedians Already Know, But You Can’t Say Because of Political Correctness,” thanks for posting honest raw data and not trying to justify differences. If you take any heat for it, just remember many of us appreciate it.

  5. mexican americans. mexicans have ~ 2. and to be fair, the american TFR as a whole was above the current mexican american one in the early 1960s at the tail end of the baby boom.

  6. Could the “non-Hispanic white” level be low due to mixed people self-identifying as the other part of their ancestry?

    It’d also be interesting to see what’s going on within “non-Hispanic whites”.

  7. mike, i doubt that, there aren’t that many self-identified mixed people, and non-hispanic white is the biggest category.

    It’d also be interesting to see what’s going on within “non-Hispanic whites”.

    ok. i’ll look in the GSS.

  8. BJ

    Have no fear, when there are no borders and all Hispanics eat the Genetically Engineered devitalized, hormone disrupting diet foisted on the Americans to cause sterility and disease, they too will have fertility rates of the non hispanic whites, Native Americans, the more robust non hispanic blacks. Unless people wake up and changes are made to our food, water and air supply. Just you wait ~

  9. dave chamberlin

    An amusing story was sensationalist headlines in Europe and the United States that sperm counts were quickly declining. Why if this kept up in a generation or two all men would be completely sterile. Then some people checked if there was any correlation with the stigma of masterbation being lifted, and the story died a quiet death.

  10. wow, this is not good. mexicans have an INSANE amount of babies

    They’re practicing Catholics, are they not? My understanding is that most American Catholics have more or less abandoned the Vatican’s teachings about birth control – there are very visible minorities who keep to the prohibition, and a very large and very silent majority who don’t. Mexican folk culture has a reputation as being a very pious one in a sort of superstitious peasant way.

  11. Jake Prufrock

    This is only half of the story: the average ages at which women of different demographic groups have their babies also matter greatly. If two otherwise-identical groups both have TFRs of 2.0, but one group has its two, on average, at ages 16 and 18, while the other has its, on average, at 32 and 36, the former will produce two new generations for every one new generation of the latter, and the former’s population, if the rates and average ages remain constant, will overwhelm the latter’s over time….

  12. Corvinus

    I think 2.99 for Hispanics was the figure from 2007; the 2008 figure is 2.91. Preliminary figures seem to show the Great Recession kicking Hispanic birth rates in the teeth.

  13. caledonian, mexican american catholic “childs” is 2.1 and protestant 2.29. additionally, mexican american catholics aren’t particularly social conservative or observant on any issue except abortion.

  14. Anthony

    Razib – just being observant about abortion will make a group have a significantly higher TFR.

  15. anthony


    1) what people say about abortion doesn’t always translate what they do about abortion

    2) no, abortion isn’t it. look at the chart

  16. Ross

    I speak Spanish and have a business that caters to both Mexican and Puerto-Rican Americans. The difference between the two groups has always been striking to me and this chart confirms a lot of what I’ve noticed.

    Puerto Ricans are happy go lucky, don’t-worry-be-happy, types. Mexicans wallow in their sorrow and suffering.

    In America, we throw around the word “freedom” as a catch all to mean everything good. In Mexico they say “orgullo” for the same ultimate value which means, technically, “proud” but it has family implications that mostly revolve around suffering.

    I think of other famously fecund populations, Irish and Italian in the 20th century, Jewish in the 19th century and they had similar reputations for being “poor but proud” or, fundamentally, suffering.

    I don’t know what it means but this world view of suffering having value creates incredible fertility.

    I have a child of my own and it’s constant sacrifice rewarded by moments of complete serenity. Closest thing to a catholic-style religious experience that I’ve ever known.

  17. Lola

    Ethnic group I assume it’s supposed to mean

    We are all one racial group

  18. Osvaldo

    I am mexican, but I think that both mexicans in USA and in Mexico should have lower fertility rates, if we want to continue to have same or better quality of life.
    Mexican americans have higher feritlity rates than in Mexico because firtofall when they arrived there they think they can afford to have larger families. Second most of the emigrants from rural areas and very poor areas which have much higher fertility rates. Actually even in Mexico until recently rural people have almost twice the fertility than in mexican cities. Now is about 2.8 vs 2.0 (rural vs urban). Also most have very low level of education which is also correlated (at least in Mexico) with higher fertility and even when there are second generations in USA many depart from a very poor educated, rural and excluded family which in the end will keep fertility high. It takes about 3 to 4 generations to adapt well to the country.
    Here in Mexico things are not that good but at least fertillity have decreased sharply, and I hope it continue the trend because my country seems overpopulated specially like in my case when looking oportunities for college graduates, because of the young structure of the population and lack of oportunities.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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