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The Falling Birth Rate – What Does it Mean For the US?

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The Falling Birth Rate – What Does it Mean For the US?
The drop in births for the US is at an “All-Time Low,” according to the CDC’s US National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) annual National Vital Statistics Report. The low birth rate is being attributed to a “drop in teen birth rate” and a “poor economy…” (1)

While more than 3.9 million babies were born in the US during 2013, that birth rate is almost 1% less than last year.

The CDC’s National Vital Statistics Report published in January 2015 cited the “Final Data for 2013” for births (2). Those statistics for 2013 birth rates included:

–> 3,932,181 births registered in US (down less than 1% from 2012)
–> Births for women ages 15-44 another record low
–> Fertility rate declined 1%
–> Declined for non-Hispanic white and Hispanic women
–> No appreciably change for non-Hispanic black women
–> Birth rate for women aged 18–19 dropped 8%
–> Birth rate for unmarried women dropped for 5th consecutive year
–> Preterm (dropped 11.39%) and Cesarean delivery rates declined
–> Twin birth rate rose 2%
–> Triplet and higher-order birth rate dropped another 4% (dropped 1/3 since 1998)

The CDC reports that the teen birth rate has “…declined to the lowest rates seen in seven decades.” According to the CDC, teens appear to be “less sexually active” while those sexually active are using contraceptives (3). The birth rate for teenagers aged 15–19 declined 10% in nearly all races.

Some doctors, like Dr. Aaron Caughey, chair of obstetrics and gynecology for Oregon Health & Science University in Portland believe, “By 2016 and 2017, I think we’ll start seeing a real comeback.” This optimistic outlook is based on the belief that the decrease in birth rates is directly related to the downswing in the economy.

Dr. Caughey pointed out that the economy is doing better than previous years, with 2014 being “…the first year our economy really started to feel like it’s getting back to normal.”

Significant Birth Rate Drop in Teens

Most couples are waiting longer to start their families, with the average age of first time mothers being 26 years old. That’s a slight increase from the previous report that placed the age at 25.8 years old.

Caughey also pointed out that many college graduates are having difficulty finding jobs and this in turn delays couples in starting families. This is verified by the birth rates for women in their 20s declining, while women in their 30s had an incline; but the birth rate for women in their 40s remained the same.

The NCHS statistician/demographer and report co-author Brady Hamilton said, “If you look at the birth rates across age, for women in their 20s, the decline over these births may not be births forgone so much as births delayed.”

What is the reason behind the 10% decline in the teen birth rate? According to Hamilton, it’s because of the “TV shows and public ad campaigns that highlight the downsides of being a young mother.”

As for the increased birth rate for twins, Hamilton stated that, “Twins have worse outcomes…” He encourages couples to “be more engaged” when it comes to decisions about “fertility treatments, to reduce the risk of any multiple births.”

It might surprise some people that even fertility treatments come with an economic rate of exchange. Hamilton pointed out that many parents are hopeful of a twin birth due to the treatment cost. Such births are often viewed as a way to an “instant family and they are done.”


Is 1% Drop in US Birth Rate a Problem?

According to US News’ Rick Newman, the drop in birth rate is typically a long-term societal trend. However, he points out, it could have a greater impact “if the trend persists, it could mean lower living standards for most Americans in the future” (4).

When a growing population is compared to the demands for resources, especially food, then the argument that a drop in birth rate is a negative has to be examined. Newman writes, “That’s not the situation in America, which has a dynamic economy that creates wealth and more than enough resources for all of its citizens.”

He states that a high birth rate in the US is one of the country’s greatest strengths. Such an influx of babies is what keeps a population young and productive. Newman quotes economist Donald Boudreaux of George Mason University saying, “It’s generally true that most people produce more than they consume.”

This means that a population that is growing will also see a rise in its productivity and maintain a healthy economy (5).

Demographer with the Population Reference Bureau Mark Mather responded in the Desert News National that should a sustained drop over a period of time, such as a decade, “…will certainly have long-term consequences for society” (6).

For now, it’s a wait and see situation. The birth rate fluctuates all the time and can do so from one year to the next. A lowered birth rate for one year can return to normal or even be higher the next year and so on. A change that becomes a trend year after year is what experts will be monitoring over the next few years.

References & Image Credits:
(1) NIH
(2) CDC
(3) CDC: Teen Pregnancy
(4) US News
(5) TSW
(6) Desert News

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