PRI Review

U.S. Birth "Echo Boom" Fades Away

About nine months after the end of World War II, the United States experienced a baby boom following the return of millions of U.S. servicemen who resumed/assumed their marital and parental duties or, if previously unmarried, entered marriage in record numbers.

The resulting births began a quick, steep climb, rising from 2.9 million in 1945 to 3.4 million in 1946 to 3.8 million in 1947. The boom continued for 19 years and from 1954 to 1964 the number of births exceeded four million every year, In the peak year of 19571, 4.3 million babies were born.

Following the introduction of The Pill in 1961, the number of yearly births began to decline and in 1965 they dropped to 3.8 million. The baby boom was over, but not before producing almost 76 million baby boomers.

Through the late 1960s and the early 1970s, births remained well below four million a year, dipping to only 3.1 million in 1973. But in 1977, annual births began climbing again signaling the start of a new baby boom, the so-called “echo boom.” The daughters of the baby boomers had entered their prime childbearing years and were having their own baby boomlet. Initially, the annual number of births remained below the four million level, but in 1989 births topped that mark for the first time in a quarter of a century.

The yearly birth totals continued above the four million level through 1993. In 1994, however, the second baby boom appears to have come to a close as births dipped below four million to 3,979,000. More daughters of the original baby boomers had joined their mothers beyond the prime childbearing years. During the 18 years of the echo boom some 68 million Americans were born.1

There are a number of interesting aspects concerning the two baby booms:

  • There were only five years (1989-1993} of four million-plus births in the echo boom years while there were 11 such years during the earlier baby boom (1954-1964);

  • Despite the substantially greater number of potential mothers available during the echo boom years, the numbers of births never exceeded those achieved by the considerably smaller cohort of 1946-1964;

  • The birth rates per 1,000 population during the echo boom years (15 to l7), were among the lowest ever experienced in the United States, and well below the levels of the first baby boom (20 to 26};

  • The total fertility rates (TFR) of the echo boomers never rose above the magical figure of 2.1 — the number of births per woman per reproductive lifetime which results in a stable, no growth population — whereas during the earlier baby boom years the TFR remained well above three, averaging over 3.6 children per woman between the years 1956 and 1960.2 The echo boom years thus present the paradoxical situation of record numbers of American women in their prime childbearing years producing near-record small families.

This report is based upon the article “The Next Baby Boom,” which appeared in the October 1995 magazine, American Demographics .

1 Official U.S. yearly birth statistics compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics (U.S. Dept. of HHS). The American Demographics' article incorrectly gave the figure as “72 million.”

2 “The Baby Boom — Entering Midlife,” Population Bulletin, Population Reference Bureau, Vol. 46, No. 3 (November 1991), pp. 4-5.

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