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Recession may have
pushed U.S. birth rate to
new low

Updated 8/27/2010 2:14 PM

Births fell 2.7% last year even as the population grew,
numbers released Friday by the National Center for
Health Statistics show.

By J. Scott Applewhite, AP

The U.S. birth rate has dropped for the second year
in a row, and experts think the wrenching recession
led many people to put off having children. The
2009 birth rate also set a record: lowest in a

Births fell 2.7% last year even as the population
grew, numbers released Friday by the National
Center for Health Statistics show.

"It's a good-sized decline for one year. Every month
is showing a decline from the year before," said
Stephanie Ventura, the demographer who oversaw
the report.

The birth rate, which takes into account changes in
the population, fell to 13.5 births for every 1,000
people last year. That's down from 14.3 in 2007 and
way down from 30 in 1909, when it was common for
people to have big families.

"It doesn't matter how you look at it — fertility has
declined," Ventura said.

The situation is a striking turnabout from 2007,
when more babies were born in the United States
than any other year in the nation's history. The
recession began that fall, dragging stocks, jobs and
births down.

"When the economy is bad and people are
uncomfortable about their financial future, they tend
to postpone having children. We saw that in the
Great Depression the 1930s and we're seeing that in
the Great Recession today," said Andrew Cherlin, a
sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University.

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"It could take a few years to turn this around," he
added, noting that the birth rate stayed low
throughout the 1930s.

Another possible factor in the drop: a decline in
immigration to the United States.

The downward trend invites worrisome comparisons
to Japan and its lost decade of choked growth in the
1990s and very low birth rates. Births in Japan fell
2% in 2009 after a slight rise in 2008, its
government has said.

Not so in Britain, where the population took its
biggest jump in almost half a century last year and
the fertility rate is at its highest level since 1973.
France's birth rate also has been rising; Germany's
birth rate is lower but rising as well.

"Our birth rate is still higher than the birth rate in
many wealthy countries and we also have many
immigrants entering the country. So we do not need
to be worried yet about a birth dearth" that would
crimp the nation's ability to take care of its growing
elderly population, Cherlin said.

The new U.S. report is a rough count of births from
states. It estimates there were 4,136,000 births in
2009, down from 4,251,095 in 2008 and more than
4.3 million in 2007.

The report does not give details on trends in
different age groups. That will come next spring
and will give a clearer picture who is and is not
having children, Ventura said.

Last spring's report, on births in 2008, showed an
overall drop but a surprising rise in births to
women over 40, who may have felt they were
running out of time to have children and didn't want
to delay despite the bad economy.

Women postponing having children because of
careers also may find they have trouble conceiving,
said Mark Mather of the Population Reference
Bureau, a Washington-based demographic research

"For some of those women, they're going to find
themselves in their mid-40s where it's going to be
hard to have the number of children they want," he

Heather Atherton is nearing that mark. The
Sacramento, mom, who turns 36 next month, started
a home-based public relations business after
having a baby girl in 2003. She and her husband
upgraded to a larger home in 2005 and planned on
having a second child not long afterward. Then the
recession hit, drying up her husband's sales
commissions and leaving them owing more on their
home than it is worth. A second child seemed too
risky financially.

"However, we just recently decided that it's time to
stop waiting and just go for it early next year and let
the chips fall where they may," she said. "We can't
allow the recession to dictate the size of our family.
We just need to move forward with our lives."

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