The continuing economic crisis seems to be choking the birth rates in the US. Indeed they have hit the lowest level since national data have been available, according to statistics just released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The rate of births among teenagers also fell to a new record low, continuing a decline that began in 1991.
The birth rate fell to 13.9 per 1,000 persons in 2002, down from 14.1 per 1,000 in 2001 and down a full 17 percent from the recent peak in 1990 (16.7 per 1,000), according to a new CDC report, "Births: Preliminary Data for 2002." CDC analysts say the birth rate is dropping as the increasing life span of Americans results in a smaller proportion of women of child childbearing age.
The birth rate among women of peak childbearing age has also been declining. Birth rates for women in their 20s and early 30s were generally down while births to older mothers (35-44) were still on the rise. Rates were stable for women over 45.
Among teenagers, the birth rate fell to 43 births per 1,000 females 15-19 years of age in 2002, a 5-percent decline from 2001 and a 28-percent decline from 1990. The decline in the birth rate for younger teens, 15-17 years of age, is even more substantial, dropping 38 percent from 1990 to 2002 compared to a drop of 18 percent for teens 18-19.
"The reduction in teen pregnancy has clearly been one of the most important public health success stories of the past decade," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson in a CDC press release. "The fact that this decline in teen births is continuing represents a significant accomplishment."
The news is not surprising, said Andrew Cherlin, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University, given the sad state of the American economy right now.
"The birth rate is falling because of the Great Recession. When people are unsure of their financial future, they tend to postpone having children," Cherlin told CNN.
"It's stronger now than in the last couple of recessions because this is a stronger recession," he added.
The U.S. birth rate has been declining since the start of the economic downturn in late 2007. When the economy picks up, so should births, said Cherlin, though he stressed it will take time for people to feel secure again.
Some of the women postponing having children now will have them later, Cherlin said, while others never will. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, roughly 20 percent of women never had children -- a percentage that Cherlin predicts the United States will hit again.
More than one fourth of all children born in 2002 were delivered by cesarean; the total cesarean delivery rate of 26.1 percent was the highest level ever reported in the United States.
Among other significant findings included:
· In 2002, there were 4,019,280 births in the United States, down slightly from 2001 (4,025,933).
· The percent of low birthweight babies (infants born weighing less than 2,500 grams) increased to 7.8 percent, up from 7.7 percent in 2001 and the highest level in more than 30 years. In addition, the percent of preterm births (infants born at less than 37 weeks of gestation) increased slightly over 2001, from 11.9 percent to 12 percent.
· More than one-third of all births were to unmarried women.
· The birth rate for unmarried women was down slightly in 2002 to 43.6 per 1,000 unmarried women, reflecting the growing number of unmarried women in the population.
· Access to prenatal care continued a slow and steady increase. In 2002, 83.8 percent of women began receiving prenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancy, up from 83.4 percent in 2001 and 75.8 percent in 1990.