The U.S. birth rate and the nation's total number of births decreased in 2009 from the previous year, with experts speculating that the declines are linked to the recession, according to a preliminary analysis from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics, USA Today reports.
The analysis also found that the total fertility rate—an estimate of how many children women will have during their childbearing years—was two births per 1,000 women for 2009, 4% below the 2008 rate and the largest decline since 1973 (Jayson, USA Today, 12/22).
The U.S. birth rate dropped by 4% to 13.5 births per 1,000 women, down from 14 births per 1,000 women in 2008, the analysis said (Esterl, Wall Street Journal, 12/22).
The total number of U.S. births declined from 4.2 million in 2008 to 4.1 million in 2009, with early analysis of 2010 data suggesting that the trend is continuing.
By age group, birth rates for teens and for women in their 20s and 30s declined most sharply, reaching "record-breaking low levels" by some measures, USA Today reports:
CDC also said there was a slight increase in the total number of births to unmarried women. Forty-one percent of all U.S. births were to unmarried women in 2009, compared with 40.6% the year before (USA Today, 12/22). The declines spanned across racial and ethnic lines, Reuters reports.
Other findings in the analysis include:
Experts suggested that the decline in the number of births and the birth rate are related to the poor economy.
Steven Martin, a researcher at the University of Maryland's Maryland Population Research Center, said:
“When the economic downturn is strong enough, fertility goes down...We saw the same thing in Eastern Europe starting in the 1990s, and certainly in Russia.”
Carl Haul—a demographer at the Population Reference Bureau who earlier this year analyzed how the recession is affecting worldwide fertility—said also fertility has "flattened out” in European countries due to the effects of the global economic downturn (USA Today, 12/22).
Speculation was more mixed about the reasons for the decline in teen birth rates—the second decrease in a row after increases the previous two years. Across the past 18 years, teen birth rates have decreased 16 times compared with the previous year, Washington Post reports.
Changes in sex education policies, increases in teens' birth control use and media influences—or the combined effects of these and other factors—were cited as possible explanations for fewer births to teens, the Post reports.
According to the Post,
“critics of abstinence programs, who argue that the approach does not work, attributed the drop to the recession.”
James Wagoner of Advocates for Youth said,
“We certainly don't want recession to be the most effective form of birth control in the U.S. We still need structural reforms in sex education, contraceptive access and pragmatic public policies to ensure a long-term decline in the teen birth rate—during good economic times as well as bad.”
Supporters of abstinence-only sex education argued that the data reflect the value of their approach, the Post reports.
Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association said—
the “evidence shows that teen behaviors increasingly mirror the skills they are taught in successful abstinence education programs” (Stein, Washington Post, 12/22).