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Not tonight, dear. I’m on Snapchat. Do young adults prefer smartphones to sex?

A fertility consulting firm notes that a decline in sex and births among young adults and teens corresponds with a rise in the use of smartphones and social media.
A fertility consulting firm notes that a decline in sex and births among young adults and teens corresponds with a rise in the use of smartphones and social media. TNS

Population projections can be a dry business, but one consultant’s theory about declining birth rates among young adults is sparking chuckles and debate.

Demographic Intelligence, a Charlottesville, Va., consulting group that specializes in analysis and forecasts about birth trends, predicted in November that U.S. birth rates would hit a 30-year low in 2017.

“Younger women are having fewer children,” said company president Sam Sturgeon. “This is true not just for teenagers but also for women in their 20s.”

He continued: “We think that declines in sex among young adults, driven perhaps in part by the rising popularity of smartphones and social media as well as a reluctance to enter into a committed relationship, help explain marked falls in young women’s childbearing in a period when a growing economy should have led to more births, not fewer births.”

The “baby bust” forecast is being picked up across the country. It poses serious questions for school officials and planners, including those in North Carolina, where public school enrollment is leveling after years of growth.

Bradford Wilcox, a University of Virginia sociology professor who advises Demographic Intelligence, says the link between social media and sex is speculative, but the dip in sex and childbearing among teens and young adults is well documented.

North Carolina state demographer Mike Cline says he takes the birth-rate discussion seriously and is watching enrollment trends. But as for the cause, “I’m not sure cell phones are the answer.”

The theory also sparked some amusement on the Observer’s Facebook page.

“Smartphones are not why millennials aren’t having kids,” one person posted.

“False!” replied another reader. “I’m a millennial and I’m on my phone right now. Why, were it not for this cursed machine, I’d have at least 14 children. Curse you, Steve Jobs!!!”

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

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