Baby Bust ahead! What will this mean for companies marketing to parents?

Companies specializing in products for children — from toys to cribs to entertainment and more — have counted on an American birth rate that has regularly hit 4 million or so annually since the late 1980s.  Their target market was the surest of sure things: There would always be babies, and parents to shop for them.

No more—or more accurately, not to the same degree.  Americans today are having fewer babies. Once considered a blip and attributed to the recession, this downward trend is continuing. In 2017, the U.S. birth date reached a record low for the second consecutive year.

Specifically, the number of births for every 1,000 women of childbearing age was 60.2 last year, meaning that the total fertility rate — which estimates how many babies women will have based on current patterns — is down to 1.8, below the replacement level in developed countries of 2.1.

Why? According to research by The New York Times and Morning Consult and announced last week, the three top reasons Americans don’t want or are not sure they want children are:

  • Wanting more leisure time and personal freedom
  • Not having a partner yet
  • Not being able to afford child-care costs

More than half of the 1,858 survey respondents, ages 20 to 45, said they planned to have fewer children than their parents. About half were already parents. Of those who weren’t, 42 percent said they wanted children, 24 percent said they did not and 34 percent said they weren’t sure. A quarter of poll respondents who didn’t plan to have children said one reason was they didn’t think they’d be good parents.

According to the Times article releasing the results, “About a quarter of the respondents who had children or planned to said they had fewer or expected to have fewer than they wanted. The largest shares said they delayed or stopped having children because of concerns about having enough time or money.” Women also feel they have more control over their lives today, and many see motherhood as more of a choice than an inevitability.

The only age group in which the fertility rate increased in 2017 was women ages 40-44. Later marriages and births are other big reasons people give for having fewer children than their ideal number. Women’s fertility begins to decline significantly at age 32.

So where does that leave the kids’ industry? There will still be plenty of babies, of course. Perhaps companies need to expand their target age range to be more inclusive of new parents 40+. Fewer kids per household may well mean more spending on each child. But fewer kids altogether may require rethinking how best to maintain the status quo in a shrinking market.