Based on women’s age-specific fertility rates in their child-bearing years, the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) indicates the average number of children a woman could potentially bear during her reproductive age span (15-44). A TFR rate of 2.1 (2.1 children per woman) is considered replacement level fertility. If this rate persists over a sufficiently long period, each generation will exactly replace itself.
Obtaining an accurate TFR for Arkansas and its 75 counties for 2017-2019 required using a three-year average of statewide birth and population data to address discrepancies from small population groups and substituting the state TFR for data that was unattainable or too far outside the norm. From to 2017-2019, Arkansas had an average Total Fertility Rate of 1.87. This rate falls below the replacement fertility rate of 2.10. and will lead, if it persists for a sustained period, to a decrease in the population achieved through natural growth since the number of deaths exceeds the number of births.
Map 1: Average Total Fertility Rate for the Population of Arkansas by County (2017-2019)
Map 1 shows the average TFR for every county in Arkansas. Rates range from a low of 1.40 in Clark County to a high of 2.49 in Chicot County. Only 25 counties are above the 2.10 needed to obtain replacement level fertility, which leaves almost two-thirds of the state’s counties unable to maintain their current populations through births alone. Higher birthrates are concentrated in the Delta and northeast Arkansas, although some counties in the eastern part of the state have a TFR rate just below 2.10.
Map 2: Average Total Fertility Rate for the White Population of Arkansas by County (2017-2019)
Map 2 focuses on the average TFR rate by county for the state’s White population. The values range from 1.37 in Clark County to 2.43 in Randolph County. Seven western counties close to or bordering Oklahoma have high TFR rates for white residents. Other counties where the TFR rates for Whites surpass 2.10 are in the Delta and northeast Arkansas. Despite these higher TRF rates, the average statewide TFR rate for whites of 1.783 is well below the 2.10 TFR replacement rate.
Map 3: Average Total Fertility Rate for the Black and African American Population of Arkansas by County (2017-2019)
African Americans in Arkansas, represented in Map 3, have an average TRF rate of 1.94. Although several counties with TFR rates that exceed the replacement rate are scattered throughout the state, the counties with the highest fertility rates for Blacks are concentrated in the Delta. The lowest TFR in the state, 0.75, is in Pike County, and the highest, 2.77, in Chicot County. The unusually low rate in Pike County is likely attributable to the small number of resident Blacks.
Map 4: Average Total Fertility Rate for the Hispanic Population of Arkansas by County (2017-2019)
For the state’s Hispanic population, shown in Map 4, the higher TFR rates are in counties located in central and southern Arkansas. Cross County has the lowest rate at 0.92, and Arkansas County the highest, at 4.11. These rates may reflect fewer women of reproductive age and an unusual number of births occurring during the period indicated. The average statewide TFR rate of 2.32 for Hispanics exceeds the replacement rate and surpasses the average rates for all other population groups.
Map 5: Average Total Fertility Rate for the Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native American Population of Arkansas by County (2017-2019)
Map 5 shows TFR rates by county for the rest of the state’s population, primarily Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans. The counties with high TFR rates for this population group are more scattered geographically than the previous groups and mainly located in southwestern, northwestern, and northeastern Arkansas. Randolph County has the highest TFR at 5.71, and fertility rates for this group in Randolph, Green, Clay, and Cleburne counties are above 4.00. The average TFR for this group is 1.984.
Historically, raising low fertility rates in economically developed regions is unlikely since circumstances contributing to higher birth rates, like high infant and child mortality rates, are of less concern. Also, factors linked to lower fertility rates, including education for girls and women, availability of contraceptives, and higher living costs, are characteristic of more prosperous urban areas.
Should the trends evident in the 2017-2019 Total Fertility Rates persist over the next few decades it could indicate a steadily decreasing population for Arkansas. Reversing these trends would require the state to supplement its population by encouraging people to migrate to the state and reducing the number of residents leaving to live and work elsewhere. These efforts would also need to be replicated at the local level since so many counties have birth rates well below the natural replacement rate.
It is also important to note that the relatively high fertility rates for some or all of the state’s minority populations may eventually trend downwards as more generations are born and the counties they inhabit experience greater economic growth and development.