US/World

US Birth Rate Falls for 4th Year in a Row, Lowest Since 1998

baby
Image United Photos/Reuters

The U.S. birth rate has fallen for the fourth year in a row, according to a government report released on Wednesday. Experts say that the latest drop in births is more proof that the weak economy has continued to dampen interest for having children.

However, the latest report shows that the decline in 2011 was just 1 percent, which is not as sharp a drop as the 2 to 3 percent drop seen in recent years. "It may be that the effect of the recession is slowly coming to an end," said Carl Haub, a senior demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington, D.C.-based research organization, according to Associated Press.

Experts say that the most striking statistics in the new report were the sharp drop in Hispanic birth rates and a new low in teen births.  They say that Hispanics have been especially affected by the failing economy, and teen birth rates have been falling for two decades.

According to researchers, falling birth rates is a relatively new phenomenon in the United States. Birth had been on the rise since the late 1990s and spiked at more than 4.3 million births in 2007. However, less than 4 million births were counted last year, the lowest number of births since 1998.

Researchers blame the flagging economy as being responsible for the low birth rate, saying that couples who are unemployed, underemployed or have other money problems feel like they can't afford to start a family or add to it.

While the economy was only officially in recession from December 2007 to June 2009, many polls show that most Americans remained gloomy in 2011, citing rare hiring opportunities, a depressed housing market and other factors. The report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a first look at 2011 birth data from state health departments, and while researchers will conduct more analyses, they don't expect much change in the numbers.

Researchers said that early data for 2012 is not yet available and it's too soon to guess whether the birth decline will change.

Some of the highlights of the latest report include:

-        While the birth rate for single women has fallen for a third straight year and dropped by 3 percent from 2010 to 2011, the birth rate for married women rose 1 percent.  However, researchers noted that in most cases, married women are older and more financially secure.

-        The birth rate for Hispanic women fell by a whopping 6 percent, while the birth rate for black women decline only 2 percent.  However, the birth rate for whites stayed the same and rose a bit for Asian-American and Pacific Islanders.

-        Birth rates fell for women in their early 20s.  The birth rate for this age group dropped 5 percent from 2010, the lowest mark for this group since the 1940s, when comprehensive national birth records were first collected.  The birth rate for women in their late 20s also fell by 1 percent.

-          Birth rates for women in their early 30s stayed the same and rose for moms ages 35 and older. Experts say that this may be because older women generally have better jobs, more financial security and are more sensitive to the time left on their biological clocks.

-          Birth rates for teens have been dropping since 1991 and hit another historic low in 2011.  The number of teen births last year was about 330,000, which was the lowest number in one year since 1946.  

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