September 6, 2013 — The U.S. fertility rate was stable between 2011 and 2012 at 63 births per 1,000 women, suggesting that births are leveling off after declining for several years, according to a preliminary report from CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, the Washington Post reports.
The report -- based on birth certificates issued in 2012 -- said the birth rate decreased by about 3% annually between 2007 and 2010, before dropping by another 1% in 2011. Although the report did not specify reasons for the changes, researchers hypothesized that the economic recession in December 2007 spurred the decline. They estimated that about 1.3 million fewer births occurred in the U.S. because people delayed having children (Morello, Washington Post, 9/6).
Overall, about four million infants were born in 2012, only a few hundred less than in 2011 (Stobbe, AP/Washington Times, 9/6). According to report author Brady Hamilton, U.S. women today have an average of 1.9 children over a lifetime, compared with a high of 3.8 in 1957 (Tavernise, New York Times, 9/6).
Changes Among Demographic Groups
Although the report found that the overall birth rate remained steady between 2011 and 2012, it also found that rates declined across certain ethnic, racial and age groups during that same period. For example, the birth rate fell by 2% among Hispanic women and 1% among black women, and it also declined slightly among American Indians and Alaska Natives. The rate declined by 3% among women in their early 20s and by 1% among women in their late 20s.
The birth rate among white women remained about the same, while it increased by about 4% among Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. In addition, rates increased by 1% among women in their early 30s and early 40s, and by 2% among women in their late 30s (AP/Washington Times, 9/6).
The report also found that the caesarean section rate remained steady at 32.8% (Hellmich, USA Today, 9/6). In addition, researchers found that the preterm birth rate declined for the sixth-straight year and that the proportion of infants born with a low birth weight also declined. The report said unmarried women accounted for 40.7% of births, a rate unchanged from 2011 (New York Times, 9/6).
Delayed Sexual Activity, Effective Contraceptive Use Help Lower Teen Birth Rates
The report also found that the birth rate among adolescents reached an all-time low last year, marking the latest in several years of declines. Teen birth rates are now half of what they were in 1991, which experts believe is primarily the result of delayed sexual activity and more effective and consistent use of contraceptives.
Specifically, the birth rate among girls ages 15 to 19 dropped by 6%, from 31.3 births per 1,000 women in 2011 to 29.4 births per 1,000 women in 2012, the report found.
The teen birth rate declined across all ethnic and racial groups. The report found rates of 46.3 births per 1,000 women among Hispanic teens, 43.9 among black teens, 34.9 among American Indian and Alaska Native teens, 20.5 among white teens and 9.7 among Asian and Pacific Islander teenagers.
Bill Albert -- a spokesperson for the National Campaign To Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy -- said the "magic formula of less sex and more contraception" is propelling the declining rates. "More kids are delaying sex, which is a good and responsible thing to do, and the kids who are having sex are using contraception more consistently and carefully, also a good and responsible thing to do," he said (USA Today, 9/6).