NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. birth numbers continued to fall last year, resulting in the fewest newborns in 35 years.
The decline is the latest sign of a prolonged national “baby bust” that has been going on for more than a decade. And some experts believe the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the economy will suppress the numbers further.
“This unpredictable environment and anxiety about the future is going to make women think twice,” said Dr. Denise Jamieson, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Emory University.
The latest figures were released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report, which is considered preliminary, is based on a review of more than 99% of the birth certificates issued last year.
The CDC found that 2019’s births fell about 1% from 2018’s births, to about 3.7 million. Aside from a one-year uptick in 2014, U.S. births have been falling every year since 2007, when the Great Recession first hit the country. The drop continued even after the economy rebounded.
Experts point to a number of causes, but chief among them are shifting attitudes about motherhood: Many women and couples are delaying childbearing and, once they start, having fewer kids.
The economy is a factor. Many jobs are low-paying and unstable, and that, coupled with high rents and other factors, have caused women and couples to be more cautious about having kids, said Dr. John Santelli, a Columbia University professor of population and family health.
It’s unclear what will happen to births this year, said Brady Hamilton, the CDC report’s lead author. The impact of the last few months won’t be felt in maternity wards until late this year or early next.
Santelli said births could go up, at least among some groups. Access to birth control and abortion has become more difficult, and some homebound couples may find more opportunities to conceive.
Others expect that births will plummet. The idea of a boom of “coronababies” is “widely perceived as a myth,” said Hans-Peter Kohler, a University of Pennsylvania fertility researcher. The debate most demographers are having, he said, is not about whether there will be a decline, but whether it will be lasting.
“The decline due to COVID-19,” he said, “might be different given the extent and severity of the crisis and the long-lasting uncertainty that is caused by it.”
Other highlights from the CDC report:
• Birth rates fell last year for nearly all age groups up to 34 years old, but rose for women in their early 40s.
• The birth rate for 15- to 19-year-olds dropped 5% from 2019. It has fallen almost every year since 1991.
• The cesarean delivery rate dropped to under 32%.