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U.S. birthrate drops 2 percent in 2008

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By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 7, 2010

After rising to its highest point in two decades, the rate at which women in the United States gave birth declined in 2008 as the economy deteriorated, according to government statistics released Tuesday.

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The nation's overall birthrate fell 2 percent from 2007 to 2008, when about 4.2 million babies were born. The dip pushed the fertility rate below 2.1 per woman, meaning Americans were no longer giving birth to enough children to keep the population from declining.

There were 41.5 births per 1,000 teens ages 15 to 19 in 2008, a 2 percent drop from the previous year. After a two-year increase in teen births prompted concern that one of the nation's most successful social and public health efforts was faltering, 2008 marked the return of a decline in which the rate fell 34 percent over many years.

"This is good news," said Stephanie J. Ventura of the National Center for Health Statistics, which released the annual preliminary analysis of birth certificate data. "It might come as a surprise because people were concerned the teen birthrate was on a different course."

Ventura was among those who said it was too early to know whether the teen births trend would continue in 2009. But she speculated that it might because it was part of the broader drop in the birthrate for women of all ages -- except those 40 and older -- and that appears to have continued at least another year.

The reason for the drop in teen births remained unclear. Experts offered several possible explanations, including the poor economy.

The notion of a link between the drop in births and the economy was supported by an analysis of data from 25 states, including Maryland and Virginia, that was released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center to coincide with the new government report.

For example, Arizona's birthrate declined more than 4 percent in 2008 compared with the previous year, the largest drop among the 25 states. Its decline in per capita income in 2007 ranked second and its housing-price change ranked sixth.

North Dakota was one of only five states that had a gain in its fertility rate. That state's growth in per capita income was the largest, and its 2007 foreclosure rate was the second lowest.

In an October survey by the center, 14 percent of Americans ages 18 to 34 and 8 percent of those ages 35 to 44 said they postponed having a child because of the recession. The youngest women were the most likely to say they had postponed having children.

That same survey found that women with low incomes were particularly likely to report postponing having a child. Nine percent of those earning less than $25,000 annually postponed having a child, while only 2 percent of those earning more than $75,000 did so.

"Certainly younger folks have the 'luxury' of delaying their childbearing in an attempt to hold out for better economic conditions, while older people may feel the press of the biological clock prevents too much of a delay," said Gretchen Livingston, a senior researcher at Pew.


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