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Are Immigrants Really More ‘Fertile’?

8:01 AM, Jun 20, 2013 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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The Internet had a conniption last week when Jeb Bush spoke at the Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference and made the following remark:

Immigrants create far more businesses than native-born Americans. Immigrants are more fertile, and they love families, and they have more intact families, and they bring a younger population. Immigrants create an engine of economic prosperity.

People on both the left and the right did not like this statement. Not. One. Bit.

Bush deserves, I think, something of a defensplanation. (Meaning: Not quite a defense; not quite an explanation.) So let's unpack Jeb’s statement piece by piece.

I can't speak to business creation rates. If Bush says that immigrants create more businesses than native-born Americans, then I assume he has data to back up his claim. However, it's not clear if he's talking about the absolute number of businesses created or the rate of entrepreneurship. But I suspect it's the latter for the following reason: Levels of entrepreneurship tend to be greater in the younger segments of the population. And Hispanic Americans—a large number of whom are recent immigrants—have a much lower median age than the general U.S. population. The median age in America is 37; the median age for Hispanic Americans is 27.

Now, this number includes both native-born and foreign Hispanic Americans. And Jeb was talking about foreign-born populations in general, not just Hispanics. But since we're just doing rough, back-of-the-envelope calculations, you can see why this claim is plausible.

Jeb also says that immigrants love their families, which seems perfectly sensible. He also says they have more intact families; this is a little harder to adjudicate. I'll just take one metric for "intact families"—percentage of non-marital births. The Census Bureau's most recent report on birth data says that 23.6 percent of all births to foreign-born women in America are to single mothers. For natives, 38.8 percent of all births are to unwed mothers. There are other metrics you might use to measure "intact families," but this one supports Jeb's claim. What may have confused some people is the difference between foreign-born births in particular, and Hispanic-American births in general. (Forty-three percent of Hispanic-American births are non-marital, which is higher than the national average; but this includes both foreign-born and native-born Hispanic Americans. But to make matters more confusing, that’s from the Census Bureau’s 2011 ACS, which is a survey and not a hard count. The data from the 2010 Vital Statistics Report, which actually analyzes every birth certificate in the country, puts the non-marital birth rate for Hispanics at 53.4 percent. Lies, damned lies, etc.)

Bush closed by saying that immigrants are "engines of economic prosperity," and this is outside my wheelhouse, so I'll leave it alone.

But what really got Jeb in trouble was saying that immigrants are "more fertile."

"Fertile" is wrong. I'm unaware of any research that suggests immigrants have an easier time conceiving, which is what "fertile" means. But everyone knows (or should know) that Jeb simply misspoke. He was talking about the fertility rate.

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