With a declining birthrate, Farley suggests it's time to reimagine policy

March 11, 2019

Although we may not notice in a bustling town like Ann Arbor, we are amidst a crisis—the number of births in the state of Michigan has reached its lowest point since World War II. In the last three decades, births have fallen from 153,000 in 1990 to 111,000 in 2017. And according to Professor Ren Farley, the Dudley Duncan Professor Emeritus of Sociology, we may need to consider “how to manage an older, less-populated state.”

Bridge Magazine’s Ron French and Mike Wilkinson detailed the plummeting birthrate in their March 11, 2019 story entitled “Where have all the babies gone? Michigan births lowest since 1944.” In their piece, French and Wilkinson enumerate several of the causes behind declining rates, especially in the state’s northern counties. The causal factors span from a population drain during the Great Recession; more simply, there is a shortage of women in Michigan. The state ranks near the bottom in terms of women between the ages of 15 and 44—Michigan sits at 37 percent, which is slightly below the national average of 38.7 percent.

The solution, however, is not a simple one. For one, state officials may need to reimagine policy entirely. “All of our policy thinking assumes (population) growth,” Professor Farley told Bridge, “we may have to start managing stagnation and decline.” While some counties attempt radical solutions to attract immigration of highly-educated people via loan forgiveness, such policies have proven unsuccessful.

An unprecedented issue just may require an unprecedented resolution, yet we cannot expect to increase birth rates as we did 75 years ago. Although unlikely and uncertain Professor Farley said “no demographer predicted the [post-war] baby boom, and maybe something like that will happen again.”

Read the full story in Bridge here.

Professor Farley is also a research scientist at the Population Studies Center. His life’s work focuses on population trends in the United States, specifically in relation to racial differences, ethnicity, and urban structure. Currently Professor Farley studies the revitalization of the Rust Belt, especially Detroit. At the Ford School Professor Farley teaches about the history and future of Detroit.