Mary Mederios Kent
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(February 2011) The number of babies born in the United States fell by 2.3 percent in 2009, and the number is continuing to slide. The total fertility rate, or average number of lifetime births per woman, for 2009 was 2.01, the lowest level since 1998.1 The recent drop in births puts the U.S. total fertility rate below the replacement level of about 2.1 births per woman. (Preliminary figures for the first half of 2010 show births down about 4 percent compared with the same period in 2009.)
Decline in U.S. Fertility in Racial/Ethnic and Age Groups, 2008 and 2009
*American Indian and Alaska Native
Source: Brady E. Hamilton, Joyce A. Martin, and Stephanie J. Ventura, "Births: Preliminary Data for 2009," National Vital Statistics Report 59, no. 3 (2010), accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr59/nvsr59_03.pdf, on Jan. 6, 2011.
Teens, Twentysomethings, and Hispanics Saw Big Declines
The birth rate fell among nearly all age groups—except for a slight uptick among women in their early 40s—and reached a historic low level for teenagers. The birth rate for women ages 15 to 19 fell to 39.1 births per 1,000 women in 2009, the lowest level since the government began tracking teenage birth data in 1940. Women ages 20 to 24 also saw major rate declines.
For the first time in years, the rate of births to unmarried women declined. However, births to married women declined even more, which pushed the percentage of all U.S. births to unmarried mothers to 41, an all-time high.
Birth rates declined among all the major racial and ethnic groups, but Hispanics saw the biggest declines. Hispanics have more children than non-Hispanic groups, on average, but the gap narrowed a bit in recent years. The TFR for Hispanic women fell from 2.9 in 2008 to 2.7 in 2009 (see table).
Recession Depressed Birth Rate
The recent fall is not surprising given the current economic downturn—couples facing economic uncertainty often postpone having children. Many had predicted fertility decline given high unemployment rates, the home mortgage crisis, and slow economic growth since 2008. The Great Depression of the 1930s and the "oil-shock" of the 1970s were also periods of record low fertility in the United States.2
However, the question remains: Will fertility bounce back when the economy improves, or will low fertility become the norm for Americans, as it has for Canadians and Europeans? Even at its current low level, the U.S. rate is higher than nearly every developed country, and these countries also experienced fertility declines during the recent recession.3 Will couples eventually have the babies they postponed during the recession? We will be watching new birth statistics as they are published. For now, we can expect to see continued declines over the near term.
Mary Mederios Kent is an independent writer and editor. Formerly she was senior demographic writer at the Population Reference Bureau.
1. Paul D. Sutton, "Recent Trends in Births and Fertility Rates Through June 2010," NCHS Health E-Stat (2010), accessed atwww.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/births2010/births2010.htm, on Jan. 6, 2011; Brady E. Hamilton, Joyce A. Martin, and Stephanie J. Ventura, "Births: Preliminary Data for 2009," National Vital Statistics Report 59, no. 3 (2010), accessed atwww.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr59/nvsr59_03.pdf, on Jan. 6, 2011; and Joyce A. Martin et al., "Births: Final Data for 2008," National Vital Statistics Report 49, no. 1 (2010), accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr59/nvsr59_01.pdf, on Jan. 6, 2011.
2. Carl Haub, "The U.S. Recession and the Birth Rate" (July 2009), accessed atwww.prb.org/Articles/2009/usrecessionandbirthrate.aspx, on Jan. 6, 2011.
3. Carl Haub, "Recession Putting Brakes on Increases in Low Birth Rates" (August 2010), accessed at http://www.prb.org/Articles/2010/lowfertilitytfr.aspx, on Jan. 6, 2011.