U.S. BIRTHS: Up for First Time Since 1990
The number of births in the United States increased 2% in 1998 --the first increase since 1990, according to a report released yesterday by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. "Births: Final Data for 1998" shows that 3,941,553 babies were born in 1998, a 2% increase from 1997. The country's birth and fertility rates also increased "slightly" in 1998. The growth in the number of births was largely "fueled by increases in birth rates for women in their twenties, the principal childbearing ages, and for women in their thirties," the CDC reports (HHS release, 3/28). Among women in their early twenties, the 1998 birth rate was 111.2 births per 1,000 women; for women ages 25-29, the rate increased 2% to 115.9 per 1,000 (CDC report, 3/28). The Washington Post reports that the study "appears to be the first clear signal that the daughters of baby boom women are having children at younger ages than their mothers did, returning to a pattern more akin to that of women of earlier generations." And "because the teenage population is also growing," the trend is likely to continue, as "large numbers of women ... move into the peak childbearing years," study author Stephanie Ventura said (Brown, Washington Post, 3/29). The report also reveals that birth rates for women in their thirties "are at their highest in at least three decades," at 87.4 births per 1,000 women ages 30-34, up 2%, and at 37.4 per 1,000 women ages 35-39, up 4%. The birth rate for women ages 40-44 increased again in 1998 to 7.3 births per 1,000 women. Births among unwed women also rose by 3% in 1998 to 1,293,567 -- "the highest number ever reported." Researchers attribute the increase to the "rise in the number of unmarried women in the childbearing ages" (CDC report, 3/28). According to David Landry of the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the booming economy also could be playing a role in the ascending birth rate. He said, "Certainly it follows that as the economy does well and family income rises, most families are in a better economic position to have children" (Washington Post, 3/29).
Good News for Teens
Among teenagers, the birth rate "declined again in 1998, falling 2% to 51.1 births per 1,000 women ages 15-19 years," the report notes, adding that the teenage birth "rate has declined 18% since 1991," when it hit 62.1 births per 1,000 teen girls. Among younger teens ages 15-17, the rate sunk to a "record low" in 1998 of 30.4 per 1,000 girls, a 5% drop from 1997. According to the report, the teen birth rate among young teens dropped 21% from 1991-1998, while that of older teenagers declined 13%. The "declines in birth rates have been steepest for non-Hispanic black teenagers" (CDC report, 3/28). Researchers point out that the downswing in birth rate reflects "fewer pregnancies, not more abortions" (Washington Post, 3/29). Increased "condom use, wider use of injectable contraceptives and intrauterine devices among teenagers who've already had a baby and decreased sexual activity" have contributed to the decrease in teen pregnancies, Ventura said (Rubin, USA Today, 3/29).
For the ninth consecutive year, the proportion of women receiving prenatal care during the first trimester "rose slightly" to 82.8%, marking a 10% increase during the 1990s. All races and ethnic groups except non-Hispanic white women saw gains in timely prenatal care. However, several problems with prenatal care persist. While cigarette smoking during pregnancy declined again in 1998 to 12.9%, "tobacco use by pregnant teenagers continued to increase in 1998," especially among non-Hispanic black teenagers (CDC report, 3/28). Calling the trend "very disturbing," CDC Director Jeffrey Koplan said that it "puts a troubling spotlight on two of our biggest national concerns -- teen pregnancy and tobacco use among young people" (HHS release, 3/28). According to the report, cigarette smoking may be linked to the rate of low birthweight infants, which increased from 7.5% in 1997 to 7.6% in 1998. Overall, 12% of newborns born to smokers exhibited low birthweight, compared to only 7.2% of those born to nonsmokers.
Other findings of the CDC report include:
- The rate of Cesarean delivery increased 2% from 1997-1998, marking the "second consecutive increase in the cesarean rate after declines each year between 1989 and 1996" (CDC report, 3/28).
- Multiple births continued to rise "[t]hanks to infertility treatments." The number of twin births grew by 6% -- the "largest single increase in decades" -- while triplet and high-order multiple births jumped 13% (USA Today, 3/29).
- July, August and September were the most common birth months in 1998, while Tuesday was the most likely day and Sunday the least likely, a reflection of women's increasing ability "to choose the time of delivery through induction of labor or 'elective' Cesarean section" (Washington Post, 3/29).