Tuesday, June 29, 2021

American Indians in decline


After three decades of sharp decline, American Indians now have the lowest fertility rate of all ethnic groups in the U.S. The trend is real and is not due to sub-fertile Whites self-identifying as American Indians.



The pandemic has reduced the American birth rate. According to data from 2020 and early 2021, almost all ethnic groups have taken a hit, but the magnitude has been greater for some than for others.


Asian Americans took the biggest hit. At first thought, this makes sense. Asians, especially East Asians (who make up a majority of Asian Americans) tend to take infectious diseases more seriously. They are generally more willing to wear masks, practice social distancing, and wash their hands, and it seems logical that they would also be more willing to postpone childbearing.

But that's not the whole story. The pandemic has accelerated an ongoing fertility decline among East Asians at home and abroad. With the exception of North Korea, East Asia was already a zone of ultra-low fertility—about one child per woman. When the pandemic is over, I predict that East Asian fertility will not return to pre-pandemic levels. The decline will continue. The pandemic has merely acted as a social accelerant (Frost 2020).


This view is strengthened if we return to the above graph and look at the group that took the second-biggest hit: American Indians and Alaskan Natives. Their fertility rate has likewise been declining. It was still high in the 1980s, but sometime around 1990 it began to plummet, falling below the fertility rate of any other ethnic group in the U.S. by the early 2000s.

What's going on? Is the decline real? Or is it a statistical fluke? Perhaps sub-fertile Whites are self-identifying as American Indians in growing numbers. This hypothesis was tested by Cannon and Percheski (2017):


Concurrent with this decline in estimated TFRs, the self-identified AI/AN population enumerated in the decennial US Census increased in size, largely because of changes in the racial categories and in the wording of racial identity items on the census forms.


The increase in the census counts of the American Indian population means that there are several possible explanations for the decline in American Indian fertility rates published by Vital Statistics. First, the decline could be a mechanical artifact of differential changes in racial identification between the two data systems Vital Statistics used to calculate fertility rates. Second, the decline could be driven by compositional changes in who identifies as American Indian. Third, there may be real changes infertility behavior that are unrelated to changes in who identifies as American Indian.


To control for these differences in definition and self-identification, Cannon and Percheski (2017) used a single data system (the American Community Survey) for the period 1980 to 2010. They also examined the fertility decline on the basis of three definitions of American Indian/Alaskan native: 1) women who identify as AI/AN only, 2) any woman who identifies as AI/AN, whether identifying one or more races, and 3) women who list a specific tribe or American Indian for the ancestry question. The second definition seems to be the one most vulnerable to "ethnic reassignment."


Cannon and Percheski (2017) found that all three definitions showed a fertility decline, particularly the first one. The decline was steepest among younger women. However, there was no indication that lower fertility at younger ages was being offset by higher fertility at older ages. The authors concluded: "This finding of declining TFRs estimated within a single data system is evidence against the explanation that fertility declines are merely artifacts of data collection changes or incongruences."


So what is the explanation? The main cause seems to be the declining marriage rate: "fertility rates among married and unmarried women have remained fairly stable, while the share of women ever married has declined across birth cohorts. Thus declines in fertility rates seem to be linked with changes in marriage for this population."


In this respect, American Indians are more vulnerable than most other ethnic groups in the U.S. Their women seem to prefer having children when a man is in the home. As the authors note, "other population subgroups in the United States who have experienced substantial declines in marriage have not experienced such drastic declines in fertility levels" (Cannon and Percheski 2017, pp. 8-9). 


Anthropologists have long noted that the Indigenous peoples of the Americas still retain many "Arctic" adaptations in their anatomy. Could the same be true for their behavioral predispositions? Some 12,000 years ago, their ancestors lived in northeast Asia and Beringia. In that environment, women had almost no food autonomy and could not raise children on their own. Perhaps their female descendants are still making a half-conscious link between having a baby and having a male provider.



Cannon, S., and C. Percheski. (2017). Fertility change in the American Indian and Alaska Native population, 1980-2010. Demographic Research 37: 1-12.



Frost, P. (2020). An Accelerant of Social Change? The Spanish Flu of 1918-19. International Political Anthropology Journal 13(2): 123-133.



Hamilton, B.E., M.J.K. Osterman, and J.A. Martin. (2021). Declines in births by month: United States, 2020. NVSS Vital Statistics Rapid Release. Report no. 14, June



sykes.1 said...

Is there any ethnic group outside Africa that has replacement level fertility? I don't think there is. If the current trends continue, the world will be an empty place. Wolves in Manhattan?

How do you maintain a modern, high technology civilization in the face of a declining population, a decline especially pronounced in the younger cohorts, who actually operate the civilization?

Not only will our great-great-grandchild have to learn flint knapping, they will have to learn what flint is.

Frowin said...

How do you maintain a modern, high technology civilization in the face of a declining population, a decline especially pronounced in the younger cohorts, who actually operate the civilization?

sykes.1, I think it's possible, but not while preserving the current economic model. The urbanized Digital Age civilization clearly isn't very compatible with above-replacement level birth rates.

Peter Frost said...


"Is there any ethnic group outside Africa that has replacement level fertility?"

Fertility is well above replacement in most of the Muslim world, in Central America, and in Haiti.

"How do you maintain a modern, high technology civilization in the face of a declining population"

Yes, that's a problem, but some of the "solutions" are even more problematic. Despite what you read in the media, Japan is still doing well despite low fertility. Japan is basically the West without mass immigration and mass printing of fake money.

Michel Rouzic said...

The world will ultimately not empty itself. We're experiencing a textbook case of a novel selection pressure making demographics dip while the population adapts to that selection pressure. There are many factors that influence how much people multiply themselves, but simply put people used to breed if they liked to have sex, which unsurprisingly nearly everybody did. Now they still like to have sex, but in order to reproduce they either need to go out of their way to make sure they reproduce, or simply lack the inclination or ability to consciously avoid reproducing. This is what long term demographic projections fail to take into account, nations aren't made of people who each make a random number of children uniformly centred around 1.4, they're made of different types of people, some types with a TFR way below 1.0, and others way above 2.0, and the frequencies of those types are bound to change. These novel pressures (contraception, abortion, career prioritisation for women, rejection of traditional marriage and family, reclusiveness, strange fashions making people mutilate their reproductive organs, obesity, people thinking for themselves when they're bad at it leading to evolutionarily unfit choices), if applied strongly and for many generations and vast regions, should make mankind take a big and sudden (due to the very high strength of the selection pressure) behavioral L turn. We will evolve from being people who just want to have sex to people who either want to make a family or are too dumb to stop having unwanted pregnancies, as well as a people less inclined to eat so much pizza that it affects their effective fertility and longevity.

This being said that's probably less true in places like China where I suspect there isn't really a "type" of people among the Han Chinese that actually has a TFR way above 2, which if correct could mean that such regions would take many more generations than Europe to see their fertility truly bounce back.

epoche said...

Japan is basically the West without mass immigration and mass printing of fake money.
Japan has had massive printing of fake money for decades now Peter, maybe even worse than the West.


Stagnation Begins, and the Government Steps In
The money stock in Japan grew by 10.5% per year between 1986 and 1990. The discount rate fell from 5% in 1985 to 2.5% in 1987

The fact that Japan has not imploded is merely a testimony to their industriousness and intelligence.