U.S. Birth Rate Hits All-Time Low in 2016

Drawing of a nurse showing a father his newborn twins.
Nurse Showing Man Twin Babies. Graphic Arts / Getty Images

In a trend that has some demographers worried, the birth rate in the United States dropped to its lowest level ever in 2016.

Dropping by another full 1% from 2015, there were only 62 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. Overall, there were a total of 3,945,875 babies born in the United States during 2016.

“This is the second year that the number of births has declined following an increase in 2014. Prior to that year, the number of births declined steadily from 2007 through 2013,” noted the CDC.

According to an analysis issued by the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), birth rates in all age groups under age 30 fell to all-time record lows. Among women ages 20 to 24, the decline was 4%. Among women ages 25 to 29, the rate fell 2 percent. 

Drop in Teenage Pregnancy Drives Trend

In an analysis issued by the National Center for Health Statistics, researchers report that birth rates declined to record lows in all groups under age 30. Among women ages 20 to 24, the decline was 4 percent. For women 25 to 29, the rate fell 2 percent.

Driving the trend, the fertility and birth rate among teenagers and 20-somethings fell by 9% from 2015 to 2016, continuing a long-term decline of 67% since 1991.

While they are often used interchangeably, the term “fertility rate” refers to the number of births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44 occurring in a particular year, while “birth rate” refers to the fertility rates within particular age groups or specific demographic groups.

Does This Mean the Total Population is Falling?

The fact that the all-time low fertility and birth rate puts the United States population below the “replacement level” — the balance point between births and deaths at which the population exactly replaces itself from one generation to the next — does not mean that the total U.S. population is falling. The annual U.S. immigration rate of 13.5% in 2017 still more than compensates for the lower fertility rates.

Indeed, while the birth rate continued to fall consistently throughout the period from 1990 to 2017, the nation’s total population increased by over 74 million people, from 248,709,873 in 1990 to an estimated 323,148,586 in 2017.

Potential Dangers of a Falling Birthrate                                                     

Despite a growing total population, some demographers and social scientists worry that if the birth rate continues to slide, the U.S. could face a “baby crisis” resulting in cultural and economic pathos.

Far more than an indicator of societal trends, a nation’s birth rate is one of the most significant gauges of its overall demographic health. If the fertility rate falls too far below the replacement level, there is a danger that the nation will lose the ability to replace its aging workforce, leaving it unable to generate the amount of tax revenue needed to keep the economy stable, maintain or grow the infrastructure, and become unable to provide essential government services.

On the other side, if birth rates get too high, overpopulation can strain the nation’s available resources such as housing, social services, and safe food and water. 

Over the decades, countries like France and Japan, experiencing the negative effects of a low birth rate have applied pro-family policies in attempts to encourage couples to have babies.

However, in nations such as India, where fertility rates have fallen slightly over the last few decades, residual overpopulation still results in wide-spread starvation and abject poverty.

US Birthrates Up Among Older Women

The US birth rate is not falling among all age groups. According to the CDC’s findings, the fertility rate for women ages 30 to 34 rose by 1% over the 2015 rate, and the rate for women ages 35 to 39 went up by 2%, the highest rate in that age group since 1962.

The birth rate among older women ages 40 to 44 also increased, up 4% over 2015. In addition, the fertility rate for women ages 45 to 49 increased to 0.9 births per thousand from 0.8 in 2015.

Other Details of US Birthrates in 2016

Unmarried Women: Among unmarried women, the birth rate fell to 42.1 births per 1,000 women, down from 43.5 per 1,000 in 2015. Falling for the eighth consecutive year, the birthrate for unmarried women has now dropped by over 3% since reaching its peak in 2007 and 2008. By race, 28.4% of white babies, 52.5% of Hispanics, and 69.7% of black babies were born to unmarried parents in 2016.

Preterm Birthrate: Describing babies born before 37 weeks of gestation, the preterm birth rate increased for the second consecutive year to 9.84% per 1,000 women from 9.63% per 1,000 women in 2015.  This slight increase in preterm births came after a decline of 8% from 2007 to 2014. The highest rate of preterm birth was among non-Hispanic blacks, at 13.75% per 1,000 women, while the lowest was among Asians, at 8.63% per 1,000 women.

Use of Tobacco by Mother: For the first time, the CDC reported data on mothers’ use of tobacco during pregnancy. Of the women who gave birth in 2016, 7.2% reported smoking tobacco at some point while pregnant. Tobacco use was the most common earlier in pregnancy — 7.0% of women smoked in their first trimester, 6.0% in their second, and 5.7% in their third. Of the 9.4% of women who reported smoking in the 3 months prior to becoming pregnant, 25.0% quit smoking before pregnancy.