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U.S. birth rate drops to lowest point in more than a century

The birth rate in the United States fell 4% last year, the biggest drop in a single year in nearly 50 years, according to a government report released on Wednesday.

The rate has plummeted for moms of all major races and ethnicities, and in nearly the age group, falling to the lowest since federal health officials began tracking it over a century ago.

Births have been declining among younger women for years, as many postponed motherhood and had smaller families.

Birth rates for women in their 30s and 40s have been rising steadily. But not last year.

“The fact that you’ve seen a decline in births, even for older mothers, is quite striking,” said Brady Hamilton, of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lead author of the new report.

The CDC’s report is based on a review of more than 99 percent of birth certificates issued last year. The findings echo a recent Associated Press analysis of 2020 data from 25 states showing births dropped during the coronavirus pandemic.

The pandemic undoubtedly contributed to the great decline of the past year, experts say. Anxiety about Covid-19 and its impact on the economy has likely made many couples think that having a baby at this time was a bad idea.

But many of the pregnancies in 2020 began long before the American epidemic. CDC researchers are working on a follow-up report to better analyze how the decline unfolded, Hamilton said.

Other highlights from the CDC report:

  • About 3.6 million babies were born in the United States last year, up from about 3.75 million in 2019. When births were booming in 2007, the United States recorded 4.3 million births.
  • The birth rate in the United States has fallen to about 56 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age, the lowest rate on record. The rate is half of what it was in the early 1960s.
  • The birth rate of 15-19 year olds fell 8% from 2019. It has fallen almost every year since 1991.
  • Birth rates fell 8% for Asian American women; 3 percent for Hispanic women; 4 percent for black and white women; and 6 percent for mothers who were American Indian or Alaska Native.
  • The cesarean delivery rate has increased, slightly, to about 32 percent. It was generally down since 2009.

Some good news: The percentage of infants born small and premature – within 37 weeks of gestation – has declined slightly, to 10 percent, after increasing for five years in a row.

The current generation is moving further and further away from having enough children to replace themselves.

The United States was once one of the few developed countries whose fertility rate ensured that each generation had enough children to replace it. About a dozen years ago, the estimated rate was 2.1 children per American woman. But it slipped and fell last year to around 1.6, the lowest rate on record.

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