The Kansas birthrate bottomed out in 2019, falling to its lowest point in more than 100 years and raising concerns about the state’s economy in the long term.
New statistics released by the state health department show that the state’s birthrate dropped to 12.1 births per 1,000 people in 2019.
It was the lowest Kansas birthrate since record-keeping began in 1912 after the state set a record low of 12.5 births per 1,000 people in 2017 and 2018.
It’s a trend that started more than a decade ago in Kansas — and nationally — just before the Great Recession hit in 2008.
And it may get worse with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic perhaps discouraging couples from having babies.
It signals a serious problem, especially in Kansas where 63 of the state’s 105 counties saw more deaths than births in 2019.
“It’s not a good situation to be in,” said Donna Ginther, an economist and director of the Institute for Policy and Social Research at the University of Kansas.
“Low population growth means low economic growth,” Ginther said.
“Your economy is determined by the size of your population. If your population is aging and they don’t consume as much, your economic growth is going to be lower.”
Singling out the reason for the decline in birthrates is complex and can encompass many factors, including economic conditions, an aging population and cultural changes such as women getting married later or focusing more on education or their careers.
A Pew Center Research poll from 2018 showed that 37% of childless adults say they didn’t plan to have children.
Among the childless adults polled, 23% said they didn’t want to have children in the future because they just don’t want to, while 14% name some other unspecified reason.
For most of the 2000s, the Kansas birthrate hovered at about 14 births per 1,000 people before starting to fall off in 2008.
It has plummeted from 14.8 births per 1,000 in 2008 to the current level of 12.1.
Meanwhile, as the number of Kansas births has declined, the number of deaths has risen as well.
The number of Kansas births fell by 6,420 from 2008 to 2019 while the number of deaths increased over the same time by 2,416.
Part of the birth rate decline can be attributed to younger people leaving the state for opportunity elsewhere as the remaining population continues to age, experts said.
“Part of the reason big parts of Kansas have such low birth rates is for several generations, young people have left those areas,” said Kenneth Johnson, one of the country’s leading experts on demographics at the University of New Hampshire.
“The older people who don’t leave sort of age in place and eventually, over the course of several decades, the number of deaths begins to rise because those older people have reached ages where they’re likely to suffer mortality losses.”
The state’s overall population in the 25-34 age bracket has increased by 9.3% in since 2000 while the population in the 55-64 bracket has risen 67% and the 65-75 group has increased by 55%. The state has lost population in the 35-54 bracket.
Johnson’s point can best be illustrated on a website showing national migration patterns developed by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Michigan Technological University and the University of New Hampshire.
The website provides a county-by-county look at how people moved across the country from the 1950s through 2010.
Lane County in western Kansas, for instance, had one of the lowest birthrates in the state in 2019 at 4.6 births per 1,000 people.
Data show that the county has been steadily losing population in the ages of 15 to 30 years old for at least 50 years.
About 63 more people per 100 population from ages 20 to 24 moved out of the county than into the county from 2000 to 2010, the data show.
And 46 more people per 100 population from ages 25 to 29 moved out of the county than into the county for the same decade, the data show.
Meanwhile, migration patterns for people from 55 to 64 in Lane County stayed relatively flat for the same decade.
Kiowa County had 5.3 births per 1,000 people and it, too, is suffering from the loss of young adults.
The website shows that 29 more people per 100 population from ages 20 to 24 moved out of Kiowa County than into it from 2000 to 2010, the data shows.
The outmigration was worse for the 25-29 bracket, where 46 more people per 100 population moved out than moved in.
However, the county is seeing more people move out across all age brackets than move in, the data show.
“Kansas has a lot of counties that have been experiencing a natural decrease for a long time already,” Johnson said.
“If the birthrates are down and the population is continuing to age, that’s going to become even more pronounced in the future,” he said.
Johnson said he talked to a minister from rural Kansas who said he presided over four funerals for every baptism.
“I look at lots of data, but that sort of brought it home,” he said.
The imbalance presents serious issues for the state — and the country — since a historically declining birthrate means fewer people eventually entering the labor force.
As a result, it raises questions whether the new workforce will not only be sufficient to support the retired population, but also who will make up the cultural fabric of the community that makes towns function.
Johnson points out there are implications for other parts of the community, whether it’s having enough students to keep schools open, having enough people to work as emergency responders or even coaching Little League baseball games.
“Apart from the economy itself, he said, “there are a lot of other parts of America that depend on having a significant population of young and middle-aged adults.”