In its race against rapidly aging Europe and East Asia, America’s relatively vibrant nurseries have provided some welcome demographic dynamism. Yet, in recent years, notably since the Great Recession and the weak recovery that followed, America’s birthrate has continued to drop, and is now at a record low.
Nowhere is this decline more marked than here in California. Once a state known for rapid population growth, and above-average fecundity, the state’s birthrate is also at a historic low. The results are particularly dismal in coastal Southern California. Los Angeles’ population of people under 17 already has dropped a precipitous 13.6 percent, with drops even among Latinos and Asians, while Orange County has fallen by 6 percent since 2000. The national growth, in contrast, was up 2.2 percent. Despite claims that people leaving California are old and poor, the two most recent years of data from the IRS show larger net losses from people in the 35 to 54 age group. Net out-migration is also larger among those making between $100,000 and $200,000 annually. This is your basic child-bearing middle class.
Why is this shift to an increasingly child-free population occurring more in Southern California than elsewhere? One logical source may be housing prices, particularly near the coast, which present a particular problem for middle-class, middle-aged families. In contrast, the growth in the number of children under 17 is much higher in more affordable metropolitan areas such as Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta, Phoenix, San Antonio, and Charlotte and Raleigh in North Carolina.
Housing affordability certainly drives migration. Major metropolitan areas where the cost of housing is at least four times that of annual incomes have seen a net out-migration of 900,000 since 2010. This compares to a net gain of 1.1 million in the more affordable areas.