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Idaho Babies and Corpses: National Trends in Births and Deaths in Idaho

What is happening in America is also almost always happening in Idaho too. CRT and Social-Emotional Learning are in our schools. Elites have lost patriotic attachment to our country and state and have come to represent a new oligarchy in Idaho, just as in America. American trends are Idaho trends in culture too. Religious practice is liberalizing, for instance. Social media is affecting brains and loves.

But, to be fair, it is a bit more difficult to see these problems in Idaho because they are less advanced here, for a variety of reasons.

Nowhere is this more true than in the basics of life and death. Birth rates in America are cratering, while the average life expectancy has been trending lower. The same things are happening in Idaho, but less so. We are worse off, but better than average in America on many scores. Our aim should be Idaho exceptionalism.

Obviously Idaho is growing. The Census Bureau estimates that Idaho's population was 1,900,923 in July 2021 up from 1,847,772 in July 2020. If current trends continue, Idaho will pass the two million mark in a couple of years. But that does not mean that Idaho is not dying. There are two ways that states grow. First, there can be lots of births exceeding the number of deaths. Second, there can be immigration into the state, either from other states or from other countries.

American birth rates have been plummeting during the past few years. America’s total fertility rate (the average number of children a woman has in her lifetime) declined from 2.12 in 2007 to 1.64 in 2020. It is just above 1.6 in 2021. Life expectancy has gone down in the country, with or without COVID, to about 78 years old now (down from 79 in 2015).

On one hand, Idaho has more babies than most states. On the other hand, however, Idaho has a birth rate below replacement and it is going down quite steeply.

Idaho ranks 11th in the country in the number of births by some measures (about 11.5 births per 1,000 residents, compared to national average of 10.8 per 1,000 residents). Other measures tell much the same story. Idaho's total fertility rate is in the 1.8 range, above the national average. When we measure only the number of births against the number of Idaho women of childbearing age, the rate was about 60.9 per 1,000 in 2020, but that was down quite a bit from 70.2 per 1,000 in 2014 and nearly 79 per 1,000 in 2005. Birth rates are down 25% or so in a generation.

Birth rates track marriage rates. In the United States as a whole, only about 48% of Americans are married. 54% of Idaho's women over the age of fifteen are currently married, while 55% of Idaho's men are currently married. But the number of marriages has decreased over the course of time. Well over 60% of Idahoans were married in 2005. We can use another measure. 10.5 people were married per 1,000 Idahoans in 2005. That number is 7.8 in 2018.

Idaho also has a higher life expectancy than the American average (79.5 in 2020), but it has not gone up in over a decade. Progress in life expectancy, a constant in modernity, has stalled.

Deaths exceeded births in two-thirds of America's counties in the past years. The situation is different and better in Idaho. Only seventeen of Idaho's 44 counties had more deaths and births (38.6% of the counties). All of the counties with more deaths and births are rural. Idaho had 21,316 births in 2021, while it had only 16,918 people die. (See the very interesting chart breaking down births and deaths by county at the bottom of the page.)

According to the Census Bureau, about 40% of American counties had absolute declines in population between 2020 and 2021. Again, Idaho was different. No county in Idaho had an absolute decline in population, because in the counties where deaths exceeded births there was an inflow of people from immigration of one sort or another. Immigration into Idaho hides a multitude of declines.

What lessons can we learn from the numbers? One of the great attractions of Idaho is its relatively healthy marriage culture. People are healthier here. Children can be surrounded by other children. Families are more likely to be surrounded by other families. While the divorce rate in Idaho is higher than the national average, so is the marriage rate. The triumph of hope over experience!

States with net outflow of citizens almost always have declining birth rates too. They have lower marriage rates. Idaho attracts because of its healthy marriage culture, helped out by the demographic make up of the state, it seems. What has happened mostly by accident will have to be the intentional product of laws and culture as America heads toward a demographic winter.


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