Health Care

US birthrate drops to record low amid pandemic fallout

The number of new babies born in the United States has dropped to its lowest point in more than four decades as the coronavirus pandemic and an economic meltdown contributed to a years-long baby bust that has demographers worried about future growth rates.

Just 3.6 million babies were born across the 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands in 2020, according to provisional data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

That figure represents a 4-percent drop from final figures in 2019. It is the sixth straight year that births have declined, and the lowest number of children born since 1979, when the U.S. population was just 224 million people.

The birthrate among women between the ages of 15 and 44, considered in prime childbearing years, fell to 55.8 per 1,000 women, a significant drop from the 58.3 per capita rate in 2019.

The number of births fell across racial and age groups, pointing to a widespread decline that is not isolated to just one faction of the population. Birthrates dropped most dramatically among women of Asian descent, and among those between the ages of 15 and 19.

The number of births in 2020 lagged the number of births in 2019 in all but one month of last year — February, just before the pandemic lockdowns began in the United States.

The new figures add to growing evidence of dismal population growth in the United States, at a time when that growth was already suffering.

The combination of a lower-than-ever birthrate and a global pandemic that has already killed more than half a million Americans, as well as an immigration system that admitted fewer people than usual, is likely to make 2020 one of the slowest growth years since the Census Bureau started keeping yearly track more than 100 years ago.

A record 3,376,000 Americans died last year, 18 percent more than in 2019, according to research from Kenneth Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy. More people died than were born in 25 states last year, five times as many states as experienced a net decline the year prior.

Deaths outpaced births in every state in New England, in most Rust Belt states, and even in states that have experienced population increases in recent years like Florida, Arizona, Oregon and Montana.

National birthrates have been falling since 2007, when the United States hit a modern record for the number of babies born. That year, just over 4.3 million children were born in the United States, according to CDC data.

Demographers attribute falling birthrates to both economic and social circumstances: In many cases, families opted against having children in the midst and the aftermath of the economic recession more than a decade ago, a hangover from which the nation’s birthrate has never truly recovered. Johnson has estimated there are about 3 million childless women in the United States who might have been expected to have children in earlier decades.

This time around, the coronavirus pandemic is likely to have exacerbated the slowing rate, as few women and families wanted to expose themselves to a hospital setting as the virus raged through the United States. 

Tags Birth rate CDC Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic

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