U.S. Birthrate Drops to Lowest Level in More Than 90 Years
The U.S. birthrate in 2002 fell to its lowest level since 1909, attributed in part to a drop in the nation's teen birthrate, the Los Angeles Times reports. According to National Center for Health Statistics figures, which were compiled from birth certificates provided by states, last year's birthrate fell to 13.9 births per 1,000 women -- a 1% decrease from 2001 and a 17% decrease from the birthrate's most recent peak in 1990 (Zitner, Los Angeles Times, 6/26). Overall, there were 4,019,280 births in the United States last year, down from 4,025,933 in 2001 (Washington Post, 6/26). Among teenagers ages 15 to 19, the birthrate fell 5% from 2001 to 2002, with 42.9 births per 1,000 women, a rate that is 28% lower that the 1990 birthrate for that age group. The birthrate for women in their early 20s dropped 3% over the same period, with 103.5 births per 1,000 women in that age bracket, and the birthrate for women between ages 25 to 29 remained stable at 113.6 births per 1,000 women. The largest birthrate increase was among women age 35 and older, the Washington Times reports (Wetzstein, Washington Times, 6/26). For women ages 35 to 39, the birthrate rose from 40.6 births per 1,000 women in 2001 to 41.4 births per 1,000 women in 2002, and for women ages 40 to 44, the birthrate rose from 8.1 in 2001 to 8.3 births per 1,000 women in 2002 (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/26). The United States fertility rate -- the ratio of live births in the country to the number of women ages 15 to 44 in the country -- was 64.8 per 1,000 women in 2002, down from 65.3 per 1,000 women in 2001. The fertility rate "gives you a better sense of what's going on with a society because it's not affected by an aging population," according to CDC demographer Brady Hamilton. He added, "What the U.S. fertility rate says is that we're reaching the culmination of a trend begun long ago and seen in other developed nations. Rates are cyclical, but they're also affected by women taking on breadwinner roles and a shift in attitudes about the ideal family size" (Ackerman, Houston Chronicle, 6/25).
According to the NCHS, about 12% of last year's births were premature, compared with 11.9% in 2001. In addition, 7.8% were listed as low-birthweight, which officials said was the highest percentage recorded in more than three decades. But NCHS also noted an increase in access to prenatal care, the AP/Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Last year, 83.8% of women received prenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancy, compared with 83.4% in 2001 and 75.8% in 1990 (Schmid, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/26). In addition, the report states that more infants were delivered by caesarean section last year -- 26.1% --- than ever before, up from 24.4% in 2001 (Houston Chronicle, 6/25).
HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said, "The reduction in teen pregnancy has clearly been one of the most important public health success stories of the past decade" (Washington Times, 6/26). He added, "The fact that this decline in teen births is continuing represents a significant accomplishment" (Reuters Health, 6/25). Hamilton said, "This is not a big surprise, but it's neat and cool because you're looking at the low point in a trend that has been developing for a very long time," adding, "It says a lot about where our society is going" (Los Angeles Times, 6/26). Sarah Brown, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, said, "Credit for this good news goes to teens themselves, who increasingly recognize the importance of waiting to have sex and waiting to get pregnant and have children" (Washington Times, 6/26).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.