U.S. births fell to 30-year low last year, re­port finds

Ex­perts cite shift in at­ti­tudes de­spite boom in econ­omy

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - NATION & WORLD - By Mike Sto­bbe

NEW YORK — U.S. birth rates de­clined last year for women in their teens, 20s and — sur­pris­ingly — their 30s, lead­ing to the fewest ba­bies in 30 years, ac­cord­ing to a gov­ern­ment re­port re­leased Thurs­day.

Ex­perts said sev­eral fac­tors may be com­bin­ing to drive the de­clines, in­clud­ing shift­ing at­ti­tudes about moth­er­hood and chang­ing im­mi­gra­tion pat­terns.

The pro­vi­sional re­port, based on a review of more than 99 per­cent of the birth cer­tifi­cates filed na­tion­wide, counted 3.853 mil­lion births last year. That’s the low­est tally since 1987.

Births have been de­clin­ing since 2014, but 2017 saw the great­est year-to-year drop — about 92,000 less than the pre­vi­ous year.

That was sur­pris­ing, be­cause baby booms of­ten par­al­lel eco­nomic booms, and last year was a pe­riod of low un­em­ploy­ment and a grow­ing econ­omy.

But other fac­tors are likely at play, ex­perts said.

One may be shift­ing at­ti­tudes about moth­er­hood among mil­len­ni­als, who are in their prime child-bear­ing years right now. They may be more in­clined to put off child-bear­ing or have fewer chil­dren, re­searchers said.

An­other may be changes in the im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tion, who gen­er­ate nearly a quar­ter of the ba­bies born in the U.S. each year. For ex­am­ple, Asians are mak­ing up a larger pro­por­tion of im­mi­grants, and they have typ­i­cally had fewer chil­dren than other im­mi­grant groups.

Also, use of IUDs and other long-act­ing forms of con­tra­cep­tion has been in­creas­ing.

The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion re­port also found:

The rate of births to women ages 15 to 44, known as the gen­eral fer­til­ity rate, sank to a record low of about 60 per 1,000.

Women in their early 40s were the only group with higher birth rates in 2017, up 2 per­cent from the year be­fore. The rate has been rising since the early 1980s.

The ce­sarean sec­tion rate rose by a tiny amount af­ter hav­ing de­creased four years. Stud­ies have shown C-sec­tions are more com­mon in first-time births in­volv­ing older moms.

Rates of preterm and low birth weight ba­bies rose for the third straight year, pos­si­bly for the same rea­son.

Birth rates for teens con­tin­ued to nose­dive, as they have since the early 1990s. In 2017, they dropped 7 per­cent from the year be­fore.

Rates for women in their 20s con­tin­ued to fall and hit record lows. They fell 4 per­cent.

Per­haps most sur­pris­ing, birth rates for women in their 30s fell slightly, dip­ping 2 per­cent for women ages 30 to 34 and 1 per­cent for women 35 to 39.

Birth rates for women in their 30s had been rising steadily to the high­est lev­els in at least half a cen­tury, and women in their early 30s re­cently be­came the age group that has the most ba­bies.

That de­cline caused some ex­perts’ eye­brows to shoot up, but they also noted the dip was very small.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to say yet whether it marks a fun­da­men­tal change or it’s just a blip,” said Hans-Peter Kohler, a Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia de­mog­ra­pher who stud­ies birth trends.

An­other no­table find­ing: The cur­rent gen­er­a­tion is get­ting fur­ther away from hav­ing enough chil­dren to re­place it­self.

The U.S. once was among a hand­ful of de­vel­oped coun­tries with a fer­til­ity rate that en­sured each gen­er­a­tion had enough chil­dren to re­place it.

The rate in the U.S. now stands less than the stan­dard bench­mark for re­place­ment. It’s still above coun­tries such as Spain, Greece, Ja­pan and Italy, but the gap ap­pears to be clos­ing.

A decade ago, the es­ti­mated rate was 2.1 kids per U.S. woman. In 2017, it fell be­low 1.8, hit­ting its low­est level since 1978.

“That’s a pretty re­mark­able de­cline,” said Dr. John San­telli, a Columbia Univer­sity pro­fes­sor of pop­u­la­tion and fam­ily health and pe­di­atrics.

SETH WENIG/AP 2017

The num­ber of ba­bies born in the coun­try has de­clined since 2014. There were 3.853 mil­lion births last year.

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