PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Oregon’s fertility rate is the lowest it’s been since at least 1960, according to census data provided by the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis. 

In 1960, the average number of children a woman gave birth to over her lifetime was 3.6. In 2020, that so-called total fertility rate had dropped to 1.4, according to state economists. 

In order to replace the current generation, the total fertility rate would need to be 2.1 and the state remains well below that. 

“Between 2010 and 2020, it declined quite a bit in 10 years. Plus, in these years, it has shifted to the right. That means women are preferring to have children at an advanced age,” Kanhaiya Vaidya, Oregon’s state demographer, told the House Committee on Revenue Wednesday. “Now, 30-34 is the prime child-bearing years.” 

Vaidya was referring to a chart he was presenting to committee members during a meeting. The chart shows that for decades, Oregon women were having the majority of their children between the ages of 20 and 24. In 2010, those peak ages were pushed back to 25-29 and in 2022, women between the ages of 30 and 34 were having the most children. 

This chart from the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis shows how Oregon's fertility rate has changed since 1960.
This chart from the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis shows how Oregon’s fertility rate has changed since 1960.

Oregon state economist Josh Lehner said these trends, both the declining birthrate and women choosing to have children at a later age, are not unique to Oregon. The trends are appearing across the nation. However, Oregon’s declines are more pronounced. 

In the years leading up to the pandemic, the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis said the state’s fertility rate was the fifth lowest among all states. In 2020, it was tied for the second lowest. 

In 2020, economists said Oregon’s fertility rates were very similar to Washington’s, but since then, Oregon’s rates have declined rapidly compared to the neighboring state. 

Both states have had similar net migration trends, however, Washington has a younger population, higher life expectancy, a much higher number of younger people moving in from other states, compared to Oregon. 

Economists suspect the cost of living in Washington might also play a role in its higher fertility rates and in attracting younger people. 

“We know housing costs play a role and as we talked about the other week, at the revenue release, we’ve seen an acceleration in the out migration of working from home types from the high cost of living states. And so that includes both Oregon and Washington and California,” Lehner told the House committee. 

On a household level, Lehner said the long-running fertility trends are not a cause for concern. 

“As a society, we should hope to see women making the choices they want to make in their lives!” he said. 

Historically, he said as societies get richer and people receive higher education, birth rates tend to decline. It’s only a problem if women and families want to have more children and choose not to because they can’t support the cost of a larger household, child care or health expenses. 

Fertility rates really come into play at the macro level. Already, the U.S. is being heavily impacted by Baby Boomers retiring. Without younger generations to replace them, it will continue to be difficult for businesses to hire enough workers. Schools will also see declines in enrollment. 

Lehner said these aren’t necessarily problems, but they are things for lawmakers to be aware of and to adjust public policies accordingly.