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Dramatic U.S. Fertility Decline Appears to be Stabilizing

The U.S. fertility rate has declined 9% since the onset of the recession in 2007, with births declining every year. The decrease appears to have leveled off last year, a sign of an improved economy, though the change varied among age and race groups.
September 10, 2013, 8am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Sabrina Tavernise writes on the findings contained in the national vital statistics reports (PDF) released September 6 by the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number of babies born in the United States in 2012 remained flat, the first time in five years that the number did not significantly decline, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. 

The decline “has come pretty close to grinding to a halt,” said Carl Haub, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit research group.

Birth rates and fertility rates, though related, measure different aspects of reproduction.

The fertility rate is the total number of babies born per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44. Last year it stood at 63, down slightly from 2011. At the current rate, women could expect 1.9 babies on average over their lifetimes, down from a high of 3.8 in 1957, said Brady E. Hamilton, a demographer and an author of the report.

CNN Money's Annalyn Kurtz writes that "[i]t takes 2.1 children per woman for a given generation to replace itself, and U.S. births have been below replacement level since 2007" in her article about the NCHS report.

Tavernise writes that demographers attribute the change to Americans feeling more "secure about their economic circumstances."  As evidence that "the birthrate tends to rise and fall with economic cycles...the only state to show a slight increase in fertility between 2008 and 2009 was North Dakota" which has seen one of the country's lowest unemployment rates due to a booming energy industry, one of the findings of a 2011 Pew Research Center study.

Young women and Hispanics, two groups "among the hardest hit by the recession", saw a more pronounced fertility rate decline, while "women in their early 30s saw an increase in their fertility rate in 2012", wrote Tavernise. Another group that experienced an increase in fertility rates was among Asians and Pacific Island women.

While "the share of births to unmarried women was unchanged" last year, according to Tavernise, Barbara Mantell of NBC News writes, "The birth rate among teenagers reached another historic low in 2012, government researchers announced Friday, and there is evidence that a switch to more effective means of birth control is a factor."

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Published on Friday, September 6, 2013 in The New York Times - Health
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