U.S. Birth Rate Drops to Below-Replacement Levels

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

New government statistics released yesterday found that the U.S. birthrate fell two percent from 2007 to 2008, meaning Americans were no longer giving birth to enough children to prevent population decline.

The Washington Post is reporting that the new figures, released by the National Center for Health Statistics, found that 4.2 million babies were born since the economic recession began. This means the birth rate has dropped beneath 2.1 births per woman which is considered the level at which the population can replace itself.

The birth rate for women in their 20s, considered to be the primary childbearing age, fell by three percent. Rates declined less than a percent for women in their early 30s and around one percent for women in their late 30s.

The only age group to show an increase was women in their 40s. The birth rate for women in their early 40s jumped four percent to its highest level since 1967.

That the overall decline may be due to economic conditions was borne out by an analysis of data collected from 25 states that was released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center.

“For example, Arizona’s birthrate declined more than four percent in 2008 compared with the previous year, the largest drop among the 25 states,” the Post reports. “Its decline in per capita income in 2007 ranked second and its housing-price change ranked sixth.”

Hard hit California saw birth rates drop 2.6 percent since the recession began.

Last October, Pew data found that 14 percent of Americans ages 18 to 34 and eight percent of those ages 35 to 44 said they postponed having a child because of the recession.

That same survey found that women with low incomes were the most likely to report postponing having a child. Nine percent of those earning less than $25,000 annually postponed having a child, while only two percent of those earning more than $75,000 did so.

However, there was some good news in the report. The teen birth rate dropped after two successive years of increased births. There were 41.5 births per 1,000 teens ages 15 to 19 in 2008, which represents a two percent drop from the previous year.

“This is good news,” said Stephanie J. Ventura of the National Center for Health Statistics, which released the annual preliminary analysis of birth certificate data. “It might come as a surprise because people were concerned the teen birthrate was on a different course.”

Experts say there may be several possible reasons for the decline, including a poor economy, but most believe it’s too early to tell if this is a trend or just an anomaly.

“I think it is hard to make any pattern out of the last three years, other than to say that we are no longer making steady progress,” John Santelli of Columbia University told the Post. “The trend from 1991 to 2005 was steadily downward. We now seem to be stuck.”

The rate dropped most sharply for 18 and 19 year olds (4%) and fell by two percent for teens aged 15 to 17.

The rate also fell among all races and ethnicities, but hit a historic low for Hispanics.

News of a decline in teen birth rates comes just as President Obama is about to launch a $110 million teen pregnancy prevention program that is not expected to include much funding for abstinence education programs.

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