US Birth Rate Hits 30-Year Low

Megan Brooks

May 17, 2018

Although the number of babies born in the United States reached another record low last year, as birth rates declined for women in nearly all age groups, including teenagers, rates continued to rise for women in their early 40s, according to new federal data released today.

The preliminary figure for the number of births in the United States in 2017 was 3,853,472, which is down 2% from 2016 and is the lowest number of births in 30 years, according to the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

The preliminary general fertility rate was 60.2 births per 1000 women aged 15 to 44 years, down 3% from 2016, another record low for the United States. The decline in the rate from 2016 to 2017 was the largest single-year decline since 2010, Brady Hamilton, PhD, and colleagues with the NCHS's Division of Vital Statistics note in their report.

The provisional total fertility rate in 2017 was 1764.5 births per 1000 women, down 3% from the rate in 2016 (1820.5). It was the lowest since 1978. The total fertility rate is an estimate of the number of births that a hypothetical group of 1000 women would have over their lifetimes, based on the age-specific birth rate in a given year. The decline in the rates on this measure from 2016 to 2017 was also the largest single-year decline since 2010, according to the report.

The total fertility rate in 2017 was again below the replacement rate for the United States, "the level at which a given generation can exactly replace itself.... The rate has generally been below replacement since 1971," the authors write.

Fewer Cesarean Deliveries

Birth rates declined for women of nearly all age groups younger than 40 years. Rates rose for women aged 40 to 44 years by 2% from 2016 to 2017. The birth rate for this age group has generally gone up since 1982, the researchers report.

The birth rate for teenagers aged 15 to 19 hit another record low in 2017 — 18.8 births per 1000 women, down from 20.3 per 1000 in 2016, a drop of 7%. The birth rate among this age group has declined by 55% (nearly 8% per year) since 2007 and 70% (4% per year) since 1991, the most recent peak, the authors note.

The rate of cesarean deliveries increased to 32.0% in 2017, up slightly from 31.9% in 2016. The rate had declined for 4 years in a row (2013-2016) after peaking in 2009 at 32.9%, the researchers report.

The preterm birth rate rose for a third year in a row, increasing to 9.93% in 2017, up from 9.85% the previous year. The percentage of infants born preterm (<37 weeks' gestation) fell 8% from 2007 to 2014 but rose 4% from 2014 to 2017.

The rate of low birthweight births also increased in 2017 for the third straight year, to 8.27%, up from 8.17% in 2016. The 2017 rate was one of the highest levels reported since 2006.

From 2016 to 2017, births declined 2% for Hispanic and non-Hispanic Asian women; the birth rate for non-Hispanic black women was essentially unchanged, according to the report.

These preliminary 2017 data on US births were compiled from all birth certificates recorded in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and US territories as part of the National Vital Statistics System.

National Vital Statistics System. Report no. 004, published online May 17, 2018. Full text

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