What Birth Rates Say about Immigration

Data compiled by Pew Research shows births by immigrant mothers helped maintain overall birth rates in half of the states and offset declines in births by US-born mothers, including in Oregon and Washington.

Data compiled by Pew Research shows births by immigrant mothers helped maintain overall birth rates in half of the states and offset declines in births by US-born mothers, including in Oregon and Washington.

A lot of research we read about centers on what people think. Some of the most informative research focuses on what they actually do.

A good example is fresh findings by Pew Research on the impact of births by immigrant mothers on US birthrates. The data show that in 2015 immigrant mothers accounted for more than three in 10 births in California, New York, Massachusetts, Florida, New Jersey and Maryland. Nineteen percent of births in Oregon and 27 percent of births in Washington were by immigrant mothers.

Immigrant mothers includes any childbearing woman not born in the United States.

Whether you think that’s good news or bad news, it is real news that has a significant effect on overall US birthrates. From 1990 to 2015, Pew found overall birth rates increased in half of the states and declined in the other half. Oregon and Washington registered slight increases in birthrates over that period, according to Pew’s data.

From a demographic point of view, births by immigrant mothers from 1990 to 2015 helped to sustain the birth rates in many states with declining birth rates by US-born mothers, including Oregon, Washington and California. The only state with a notable increase in births by US-born mothers was Nevada. There were moderate increases in Utah and Idaho and modest increases in Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas. The states with the largest decreases were in the Rust Belt and New England.

The sons and daughters of immigrant mothers, whether in the United States legally or illegally, born here are US citizens. In political discourse, these offspring sometimes are conflated with people who immigrate to the United States. The percent of the US population that is foreign-born stands around 13 percent, according to Pew Research data, but is projected to keep rising to nearly 18 percent by 2050.

A useful way to see the impact of immigration over time is to assess second and third generations of immigrants. Pew Research says the number of first, second and third generation immigrants in the United States has topped 300 million people and could reach 400 million by 2050.

For the majority of America, immigrants have helped to maintain or grow populations and workforces in the face of declining birth rates by US-born mothers. Despite the economic benefits of immigration, these trend lines have created cultural and racial fissures that are animating political debate in the nation. It also has made it easier for Americans who feel disenfranchised to point a blaming finger at an increasing number of people, many of whom, it turns out, are also Americans by birth.