As the American population grows, so does the number of American moms. But, more than a century after Mother’s Day became an official holiday, even as that number increases, the share of the American population who are mothers is at the lowest point it’s been in a quarter century.
It’s frequently noted that fertility rates are falling sharply in richer countries, but the less observed consequence of this trend is that a decline in births can also mean a decline in motherhood in general. According to an analysis I ran of data from the Census Bureau, the decline of American motherhood is real, occurring very quickly, and may continue for some time yet.
The first is that the time when moms made up the biggest part of the country’s demographics was from around 1975 to around 1995. (This is true for as far back as quality data is available—and possibly back to the nation’s founding, but mostly because of shorter life spans in earlier times, not lower fertility.) Since then, the share of the population composed of moms has eroded considerably. A holiday that once celebrated as much as 28 percent of the American population now celebrates less and less each year; a drop of a percentage point may not seem like much, but as a share of the country, it represents millions of people.
And there’s a natural follow-on trend to notice: moms living with their own kids represent a shrinking share of the population too. This makes intuitive sense: Minors are much more likely to live with their parents than are the group of people with living mothers generally, and so if the fertility rate falls, so would the percentage of the population who are moms with kids in the house.
Not only are moms making up less of the population, but their characteristics are changing too, and in a way that might be linked to their proportional decline. Moms today tend to be older than in the past. Just looking at recent years, the change in age-specific birth rates has been drastic.