April 7, 2010

U.S. Birth Rates Declining

Updated government figures show that U.S. birth rates for women in their 20s and 30s fell in 2008, most likely due to the recession.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new report on births Tuesday, based on a review of over 99 percent of birth certificates for 2008.  Overall, about 4.2 million babies were born that year, which is a 2 percent drop from the previous year.  It is the first annual decline in births since the start of the decade.

Experts say the most likely explanations are the recession and a decline in immigration to the U.S., which has been blamed on the weak job market.

CDC officials report that some early birth information for the first six months of 2009 indicates a continuing decline of about 3 percent in total births.

The agency gave a first glimpse of the 2008 numbers last summer.  The new report confirms that birth rates have indeed declined, and also gives a breakdown of births by age group.

The new report shows that birth rates fell by 3 percent for women in their early 20s, 2 percent for women in their late 20s, and 1 percent for women in their 30s.

The new report's lead author, Brady Hamilton of the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, said the trend in those numbers indicates that the older women got, the less willing they were to postpone a birth.

The teen birth rate dropped by 2 percent.  Teen birth rates have declined from 1991 through 2005, but rose from 2006 to 2007.  The new data indicates the spike has ended.

Women in their 40s still have babies far less often than younger women.  The rate was about 10 births per 1,000 women in their early 40s, and less then 1 per 1,000 for women in their late 40s.

The rate for women in their late 20s was 115 per 1,000.  Teens stepped in at about 41 per 1,000.

The Pew Research Center also issued a report Tuesday that shows that Arizona, Florida and California are amid those with the worst birth rates by various economic measures.

The organization also used a 2009 survey to show that 14 percent of people in their prime child-bearing years said they put off having children because of the recession.

Experts say the postponement theory may explain why younger women had lower birth rates in the CDC findings.  However, this does not explain the drop in teen births.  It also does not explain why the birth rate for older women rose sharply.

Some say that more sophisticated assisted reproduction services may be paying off for older couples, or perhaps some divorced women are choosing to have additional children with a new partner later in life.

The CDC's report showed that the percentage of babies born prematurely fell a bit, about 12.7 percent to 12.3 percent, which some health advocates consider an improvement.

The nation saw a 20 percent rise in the rate of premature births from 1990 to 2006.  Experts say this may be the reason the U.S. infant mortality rate is higher than in most European countries.

The 2008 decline may be a sign of new efforts by doctors and mothers to bring births to full term and to have one baby at a time rather than twins, triplets or other multiples.  Multiple births generally have to be delivered preterm.

"Things are starting to move in the right direction," said Jennifer Howse, president of the March of Dimes.


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