August 8, 2009

U.S. Birth Rates Down Two Percent

U.S. births fell nearly 2 percent last year compared with 2007, the first annual decline since the decade began, with some experts saying the recession is to blame.

Others, however, say a recent decline in immigration to the U.S. may have also played a role in the end of America's recent baby boomlet.

The Great Depression and subsequent recessions were all accompanied by declining births, said Emory University professor Carol Hogue.  The figures never turned around until the economy recovered from the recession, she said.

But it's not yet clear whether that is the only explanation, with other experts attributing the declining births to a recent drop in immigration.

The nation recorded about 4,247,000 births in 2008, down roughly 68,000 from the previous year, according to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics.

The current recession officially began in December 2007, with the economy shedding some 7 million jobs since then.  Housing foreclosures also worsened in 2007, reaching a state of crisis in 2008.  Indeed, the sharpest decline in births was seen in California and Florida, two of the states hardest hit by the housing crisis.

"I wasn't surprised," Hogue told the Associated Press, referring to the new figures, which are not final and will be updated.

The recession's impact on the public psychology, and couples' willingness to have babies, may not have really hit until last fall, said Stephanie Ventura of the health statistics center, the agency that issued the report.

More babies were born in the United States  in 2007 than during any other year in the nation's history.   In the past, a 1 or 2 percent fluctuation in births would not be viewed as significant, particularly when compared to such an unusual year.

But the 2008 drop in births appears to have broken an unusual trend in which births had been rising since 2002.  

Birth rates had been increasing in women of different age groups, said Ventura, who oversees the agency's reproductive statistics branch.  But since the new report is a preliminary count of births from each state, it does not include demographic breakdowns that could shed light on whether the declining birth rates occurred within some groups but not others.

The figures showed that births were higher in January, February and April of 2008 compared to 2007, but were down every month after that except September. The largest declines took place in October and November.

Births were down in 40 states, while the northwest portion of the U.S., including North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington and Alaska, showed an increase in births.

California births were down 15,000, with a decrease of 8,000 seen in Florida, compared with 2007.

Although the recession likely played a significant role in fewer babies, another factor may be the drop in immigration to the United States in recent years, said demographer Mark Mather with the Population Reference Bureau.

"If there are fewer immigrants coming to the U.S., there are fewer moms and dads,"  Mather told the Associated Press, adding that California and Florida are states with large immigrant populations.

"I don't think we have enough data to know for sure what's going on," he said.

Although about 50 percent of U.S. pregnancies are unplanned, Hogue the recession likely affected the other half.  Furthermore, the economic slowdown may have reduced the number of unplanned pregnancies that progressed to live births, she said.  However, since abortion statistics for 2008 are not yet available, it is hard to be sure at this point, she added.

The National Center for Health Statistics report can be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/lzzsss


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