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story.lead_photo.caption Mervin Jebaraj, director of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville Center for Business and Economic Research, is shown in this file photo.

Arkansas' continued population growth is increasingly reliant on people moving to the state versus residents giving birth, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

The number of births in the state has fluctuated in recent years but in 2018 was the lowest this decade, the Census Bureau estimated in data publicly released today. Arkansas' birthrate per 1,000 residents has declined every year since 2010, coinciding with a national trend that economists say is unlikely to go away anytime soon and one they fear will hurt the nation's economy.

Globally, and more so in western European countries and Japan, birthrates are less than half of what they used to be. In 2016, fewer than 2½ children were born per woman, on average, down from five in 1960, according to the World Bank. Birthrates decreased in every country with multiple years of data.

A young population that shrinks, without sufficient immigration, means fewer people to fill jobs, said Mervin Jebaraj, director of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville Center for Business and Economic Research.

It also means fewer people paying into Social Security and fewer people attending colleges, most of which already face financial challenges related to slumping enrollment or public funding.

People aren't having as many children for a number of reasons, experts say. Teens are having dramatically fewer babies. Young adults are delaying marriage. Couples are working two jobs and are unable to afford child care. The burdens of abundant student loans, stagnant wages and rising housing costs all contribute to the need to work more.

Back in the 1990s, for example, fewer couples were dual-income households, Jebaraj said. "Now it's more of an economic necessity," he said.

Immigration is essential these days, said Pam Willrodt, a demographer at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's Economic Development Institute.

"To have a thriving population, you need more people coming in," she said.

Willrodt said that's a concern for the state's largest county, Pulaski, which is losing more people through migration than it's gaining through migration. To compound that, the county has a decreasing birthrate, although more people are still being born than dying within the county, and at a high enough rate for the county's population to continue growing.

The data released today encompass states, counties, metropolitan areas and micropolitan areas across the United States. Only county data contained birthrate estimates, while all geographic areas had birth estimates. City and ZIP code data were not released, preventing a breakdown of which municipalities contributed the most to population changes.

Population estimates showed a population backslide among most U.S. counties and most micropolitan statistical areas. Population rose for most states and most metropolitan statistical areas. Both trends are true when calculated since the 2010 Census, as well.

Nine of the 10 fastest-growing counties from 2017 to 2018 had more people move in domestically than out, and eight had more births than deaths. Williams County, N.D., ranked first in growth among counties with at least 20,000 people, buoyed by domestic migration for its natural gas drilling boom. The rest of the top 10 fastest-growing counties were in Texas (four), Florida (three), Georgia and North Carolina.

Of the nation's 3,142 counties, 2,326 had birth rate declines from 2017 to 2018, and 2,180 had birthrate declines from 2010 to 2018.

In Arkansas, the birthrate among teenagers has dropped nearly in half, said Bradley Planey, the family health branch chief at the Arkansas Department of Health. Nationally, teens aren't having as much sex, and the ones that do are using birth control more properly, he said.

In Arkansas in 2007, there were 60 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19, Planey said. In 2017, that figure was 32.1.

That was one of the larger populations to have children, he said. Births also have significantly fallen among the largest population, women ages 20 to 24. An increase in the birthrate among women in their 30s isn't enough to offset the decreases among women 24 and younger, he said.

"I can look at the statistics and tell you right now, our birthrate is not replacing the number of people that live here," Planey said. "If things continue the way they are, and there is no outside immigration, our population would shrink."

The trend of lower birthrates carries across Arkansas' most populous regions. Only rural counties have had increases in birthrates since 2010, the latest census data show. All but seven of those 29 counties still experienced population drops since 2010 because of the high numbers of deaths and of people moving out.

Of those 29 counties, only Madison was in a metropolitan statistical area. Madison County had the highest increase in birthrates statewide, from 10.7 births per 1,000 residents to 14.8 births. The county is a fast-growing portion of the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, Ark.-McDonald County, Mo., metropolitan area.

The birthrate in Benton and Washington counties is declining and increasing in McDonald County, Mo., but the region is benefiting heavily from migration into the area. The region gained about 44,000 people from Arkansas and the U.S. from 2010 to 2018, while experiencing about 30,000 more births than deaths.

The Census Bureau also makes estimates of international migration to and from a place, but those estimates can often be skewed in certain areas by the inclusion of military members deploying or returning from deployment.

The downturn in birthrate poses a bigger problem for places without as much migration, such as Pulaski County.

The rest of the Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway metropolitan area continues to have positive migration numbers, but not Pulaski County.

From 2010 to 2018, about 11,900 people moved from the county to other parts of the state or nation, the Census Bureau estimates. International migrants, which also can include immigrants and U.S.-born people moving back to the country, mitigated that decline with the addition of about 6,300 people.

Stagnant job growth in Little Rock, coinciding with stagnant population growth, has contributed to a loss in city revenue and budget cuts, city leaders told the city board this week, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported.

Pulaski County has relied upon a natural increase (births outpacing deaths) for population growth more so than almost all counties in Arkansas, as a percentage of its total population change from 2010 to 2018.

That reliance and the county's population drop from 2017 makes the county different from the state's other larger counties, Willrodt said. She expressed concern that Pulaski County lost about 900 people from 2017 to 2018, according to census estimates, the second year of decline in a row. She also noted the domestic migration out of the county.

"Something different is going on," she said.

Stephanie Jackson, a spokesman for Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, said Scott intends to address reasons why people might leave the capital city.

"It was a common refrain during Mayor Scott's campaign that he plans on pushing for policies and an economic development and public safety agenda that brings millennials and others back to Little Rock," Jackson said in an email to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

In a statement to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith noted the small percentage of the county's population that the migration out represents.

"While we always like those number to go up, it is important to realize the net decrease of 5,600 is only a fraction of one percent of the county population," the statement read.

The census estimated Pulaski County's 2018 population to be 392,680, up from 382,748 counted in 2010. North Little Rock's estimated 2017 population was 66,144, up from 62,304 in 2010.

The state could increase immigration, Willrodt said, by expanding broadband Internet access, among other things appealing to modern generations. With more broadband, Willrodt said she would also market Arkansas as a telecommuter destination, highlighting the outdoor adventures that she loves about living here.

Photo by Kirk Montgomery
Change in births per 1,000 Arkansas residents

Metro on 04/18/2019

Print Headline: Arkansas' birthrate drops for at least eighth year in a row


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  • Foghorn
    April 18, 2019 at 5:17 a.m.

    Thankfully. The fewer ignorant Arkies’ who breed, the better.

  • RBear
    April 18, 2019 at 6:25 a.m.

    Some of these numbers are disturbing and should give our state and local leaders reasons to be concerned. For one, the declining birth rates and migrations from areas will result in declining economic development and tax base. Little Rock especially needs a complete rethink of some of its policies and initiatives to stem the loss of jobs and workers. The agenda of Mayor Scott should come under intense scrutiny in the coming days as we wait for "Scott's Script," his plan for the city after receiving reports from the many committees he convened.
    For Gov. Hutchinson, his last 3 years as governor will require some hard thinking to prevent the state from losing even more workers and building an educated workforce. He must lay a strong foundation to see a change in the trend lines in some key areas. Unfortunately, we do not have a legislature that is growth minded, putting social conservatism ahead of job growth. But that won't change unless the state begins to elect more economically focused legislators who will keep their faith personal and not impose it on others.

  • Skeptic1
    April 18, 2019 at 7:59 a.m.

    Foghorn...can we show you to the door, you clearly are not happy here, San Fransisco awaits.

  • malice06220956
    April 18, 2019 at 11:57 a.m.

    FOGHORN. I guess it must be tough, weighing 400 lbs and living in your mother's basement, but the insults get old. Please get a life.

  • RBear
    April 18, 2019 at 11:59 a.m.

    Malice I can say the same about you since it's a baseless attack. When you don't have intelligence enough to response, much like skeptic, you resort to those kind of responses.

  • SWAL
    April 18, 2019 at 12:36 p.m.

    Yeah, I think that comment about livin' in momma's basement struck a cord with someone.
    FOGHORN - Have you ever really been in Arkansas..?

  • RBear
    April 18, 2019 at 1:03 p.m.

    SWAL I'm assuming you're talking about yourself there. I just find it funny when that's all someone has as a response.

  • MaxCady
    April 18, 2019 at 2:38 p.m.

    Conway sucks, don't move here, stay away!!

  • kkj427
    April 18, 2019 at 3:24 p.m.

    One of the main reasons today's population has fewer children is the COST of child care. Who can afford to work for $12 an hour and pay $10 an hour for child care? NTM all the newer regulations on what the government requires for child care. The number one predictor for who will file bankruptcy is having children. We need to do something that facilitates having good child care for folks who work.