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US birth rate hits 35-year low

US birth rate hits 35-year low
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The number of children born in the United States has hit its lowest level in 35 years, according to new federal data, as demographers worry that a baby bust that emerged after the Great Recession is becoming permanent.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a report Wednesday that 3.7 million children were born in the U.S. last year, down 1 percent from 2018 and the lowest total number of births since 1985. 

Birth rates dropped among women of virtually every age and race group, though they rose among women in their early 40s, the CDC found. Birth rates among teenagers dropped substantially, hitting record lows. The rate of teenagers giving birth has dropped by a whopping 60 percent since 2007, and by 73 percent since 1991.

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Since the recession, the birth rate has risen year-over-year only once, in 2014. Now, demographers tracking the declining birth rate say the trend is beginning to look like a longer-term pattern.

"The fact that births and fertility continued to decline in 2019 despite the booming economy suggests that this is a permanent shift to a lower fertility regime in the U.S.," said Cheryl Russell, a demographer and contributing editor to the journal American Demographics.

Studies have shown the overall decline in birth rates is being driven by steep drops among Hispanic women and women who do not belong to religious organizations. A 2018 study by the demographer Alicia Munnell at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College showed the rising number of women who attain college degrees and a shrinking wage gap between women and men are contributing factors, too.

The decline in birth rates is widespread among American women of every racial group. There were fewer births in 2019 among white women, black women, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanic women than in 2018, the CDC data shows.

Now, demographers say the birth rate is likely to plunge even more in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic recession accompanying it. Birth rates have historically fallen in times of economic hardship, the data shows.

"Although some have predicted a coronavirus baby boom in 2021, that seems unlikely," Russell said. "It’s more likely that young women will delay becoming pregnant during this time of uncertainty, so we could see a bigger drop in births and fertility rates in 2021."