The number of births in the U.S. fell once again in 2018, reaching the lowest level in more than three decades, according to government statistics published on Wednesday.
Births have fallen in 10 of the last 11 years since last peaking in 2007, before the Great Recession. With 3,788,235 births in 2018, the number of babies born dropped two percent compared to 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It was the lowest figure since 1986.
The total fertility rate declined two percent to roughly 1.7 births per woman in 2018, another record low. That is well below the replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman needed for the population to replace itself over time without immigration. The United States dipped below that rate for the first time in 1971, and has remained below it for the past decade.
Birth rates declined for nearly all age groups of women under 35, but rose for women in their late 30s and early 40s. “Some of it is still residual from the Great Recession that pushed back a lot of young people in delaying birth,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution.
He noted that many people are still “paying off college debt, many of them couldn’t buy a home because it’s hard to get a mortgage. It was hard to get a mortgage for all these years. So, you know, all that kind of just incrementally changes decisions about fertility.”
“The next generation that comes along may not be as badly off during those years” of potential child bearing, he said.
By comparison, France’s birth rate was 1.88 per woman in 2017, a slight drop from 2015, except among immigrant women. The United States does however have a higher birth rate than Japan, Italy and Germany.
The preterm birth rate meanwhile rose for the fourth year in a row to 10 percent in 2018.
The report also noted the cesarean delivery rate decreased to 31.9 percent in 2018, its lowest level since peaking in 2009.
Historically, Hispanic women in the United States have had a higher birth rate than white or African-American women. That difference has persisted, the latest data showed, although it has slowly waned as Hispanic women are integrated into the broader U.S. society, said Frey.
In 1980, 10 percent of the U.S. population of Hispanics were born in the United States, but that number had risen to 37 percent by 2015. “A second generation, a third generation [of immigrants] become more like sort of standard American fertility rates and that’s happened to some degree with the Latinos,” said Frey. “But they too have probably been impacted by the recession and that may have had some impact as well,” he said.