As the new year begins, the nation’s population is estimated to be just under 269 million, an increase of 2.4 million in the last year, the Census Bureau reported.
The growth rate of 0.9 percent in 1997 was the same in 1996 and is the projected rate for 1998. The figure reflects a flattening of the growth rate in the United States, which since 1990 has been 8.1 percent.
Census Bureau analysts report that the stabilization of the growth rate can be attributed partly to the declining number of births.
“The level of births occurring in the United States each year has been declining since 1990, when 4.2 million births occurred,” said Lisa Kuzmeskus, a Census Bureau analyst. “The number of deaths in 1997 were slightly higher than the number in 1996.”
The growth rate figures for 1997 are based on projections of 2.3 million deaths, 3.9 million births, a net international immigration of 827,000, and the net return of 40,600 U.S. citizens from abroad, including members of the armed forces returning from overseas duty.
The leveling of population growth is expected to continue, with an estimated growth of 2.3 million people in 1998.
Although the Census Bureau’s 1997 projections state that the declining birth rate is a factor in the stabilization of the growth rate, future growth rates will be affected by the dying off of the large baby-boom generation.
John F. Long, chief of the Census Bureau’s Population Division, said that current projections indicate that the growth rate will slow even more in the next two decades.
“The aging of the baby-boomer generation will cause more death,” he said. “The birth rate will remain relatively stable, but the deaths are key to the future decline of the growth rate.”
From 1950 to 1955, the world’s “total fertility rate,” which is the average number of children born to a woman, was five, but that figure has dwindled to 2.8 children per woman today. In the United States, the total fertility rate is two children.
The news is encouraging to some, like John Seger, policy director at Zero Population Growth, a nonprofit group that advocates the slowing of population growth worldwide.
“It is good news that these rates are flattening out over time” he said. “Most Americans prefer smaller families, but we would draw attention to the fact that there are a million and a half unintended births.”
Seger said that 500,000 of those children were born to teenagers.