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All About Pregnancy

The U.S. Fertility Rate Just Hit a Record Low

The birth rate is the lowest it's ever been. Here's why

It may sound like a huge number, but the 3,941,109 babies delivered in 2016 was the fewest number of births for the second year in a row—and caused the U.S. birth rate to plummet to a record low, according to a new report released by the National Center for Health Statistics. Here's why:

Fewer women in their 20s are having babies. While younger moms-to-be still have roughly half of the 4 million births each year, the birth rate for women ages 20 to 29 has been dropping over the past 30 or so years, says Brady E. Hamilton, Ph.D., a statistician and demographer at the National Center for Health Statistics and one of the authors of the report.

“There are a lot of explanations for this shift,” he says. “You've seen dramatic changes for women in terms of society’s expectations toward careers, education, and families. And then there are all the demands on your time and energy when you enter the workforce.” 

And so are unmarried women. The birth rate for single moms peaked in 2007 and 2008, and has been going down since. In 2016, slightly less than 40 percent of babies were born to women who weren’t married. Another reason for overall decline: Fewer teenagers are having babies—that’s a good thing! 

But the birth rate is up for women in their 30s and 40s. More women are waiting to have kids and the birth rate actually increased for older moms. And for the first time ever, 30 to 34-year-olds have the highest birth rate of any age group, beating out even women aged 25 to 29. But the spike doesn't make up for the decreased fertility rate overall, now at 62 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44, the lowest it's ever been.

The report also found a drop in the number of annual c-section deliveries for the fourth year in a row (likely due in part to doctors' efforts to lower rates), but an increase in preterm births, now at 10 percent of all births.