Fertility rates in U.S. appear to be leveling off

Fertility rates are leveling off for the first time since before the recession began as more American women are having babies in an improving economy, according to statistics in a National Center for Health Statistics report released Friday.

The fertility rate of 63 births for every 1,000 women of childbearing age was still an all-time low, the report said. But after six years of steep decline, the downturn in 2012 was imperceptible. With almost 4 million babies born to American women in 2012, essentially the same number as the year before, the fertility rate was down just a small fraction of a percentage point.

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In contrast, the fertility rate plummeted by almost 3 percent every year between 2007 and 2010 and was down an additional 1 percent in 2011.

The report does not pinpoint reasons for the decline, largely because the government does not ask new mothers their motivations for having babies now, said Brady Hamilton, an NCHS statistician who wrote the report.

But demographers point to the recession that began in December 2007, and estimate that 1.3 million babies were not born because their parents chose to delay having them amid a severe economic downturn. The latest figures suggest that a turnaround is underway.

“Birthrates are stabilizing after years of dropping and dropping and dropping,” said Ken Johnson, a demographer with the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. “It’s more evidence the effect of the recession is beginning to wane.”

The report, based on birth certificates issued throughout the United States in 2012, shows a notable increase in births to women in their 30s. The number of births to women between the ages of 30 to 34 was up 3 percent. After three straight years of decline, there was a 2 percent rise in the number of babies born to women ages 35 to 39.

At the same time, both the number and the birthrate for women in their 20s continued to drop last year.

Carl Haub, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, said that reflected a long-term trend of women delaying childbirth until they finish their college educations and start their careers.

A striking drop in the birthrate for Hispanic women, however, continued in 2012, when it declined an additional 1 percent. Between 2007 and 2012, the Hispanic birthrate is down by almost a third, compared with a 17 percent decline for non-Hispanic white women.

“The numbers show that people with less economic security have become more reluctant to have children now,” said Haub, attributing the Hispanic birthrate decline to the recession. “Three years from now, who knows? You sort of expect it to return to what it was.”

Birthrates also plummeted during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and did not start ticking up until the early 1940s. After the war ended, the baby-boom generation was born.

 
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