Hawaii Is Already Seeing the Consequences of Falling Birthrates

Sep 30, 2019

The latest data show that number of babies are being born in Hawaii has been declining for a decade. That follows a national trend of falling birthrates.

The number of babies born today has numerous effects 20 years from now. Fewer babies, means fewer workers in the future, which means fewer people paying taxes when older generations start to retire.

But there are also effects being felt in the here and now. At least two Oahu hospitals have curtailed hiring of maternity ward nurses. Non-full time staff have reported receiving fewer shifts than in previous years. The Hawaii Nurses Association, the local labor union, told HPR that several of the facilities it represents have reported a lower birth census in recent months.

It’s difficult to say whether those reports are due to the falling statewide birthrate or regular market forces in local healthcare. But after more than a decade of annual decline, Hawaii’s birthrate is now 10 percent lower than it was in 2008. That follows a broad national trend.

Eugene Tian, Chief Economist for the State of Hawaii, says there are two factors behind the decline: there are fewer women of child-bearing age and those women who can give birth are each having fewer children, known as the fertility rate, than in previous generations. Tian says one likely reason for the decline in the fertility rate is the high cost of raising children.

Even more significant is the overall population trend. Although fewer babies are being born in Hawaii, until recently the state’s total population was still increasing, albeit slowly. Enough people were moving to Hawaii from the U.S. and other countries to make up for the falling number of births.

That changed in 2017. The last two years have seen an overall population decline, likely due to a weakening economy and sky-high cost of living in Hawaii. According to the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, stronger economic conditions on the U.S. Mainland, combined with cheaper living options are causing people to leave Hawaii.

The number of people leaving now outpaces new arrivals. When combined with a falling birthrate and normal aging, the result is a net decrease in population.

Eugene Tian, the state economist, says his analysis shows that trend may continue for the next 20 years.

That will pose new challenges for policymakers, who will face a shrinking tax base of workers as older generations retire and increased demand for healthcare, with fewer healthy people to pay for it.