U.S. Birth Rate Hits All-Time Low

Teen Birth Rate Also Fell to Record Low

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

In 2002, the U.S. birth rate continued a 12-year decline, dropping to its lowest level since national data have been available, according to statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The rate of births among teenagers also fell to a new record low, continuing a decline that began in 1991.

The overall birth rate fell to 13.9 per 1,000 persons in 2002, down from 14.1 per 1,000 in 2001 and down a full 17 percent from the recent peak of 16.7 births per 1,000 persons in 1990, according to a new CDC report, "Births: Preliminary Data for 2002."

The fertility rate was also down 1 percent in 2002 to 64.8 births per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years of age.

CDC analysts suggested the ever-falling birth rate was due to the increasing life span of Americans resulting in a smaller proportion of childbearing age women in the population.

The birth rate among women of peak childbearing age had also been declining.

According to the CDC, birth rates for women in their 20s and early 30s were generally down while births to older mothers 35-44 years of age were still on the rise. Birth rates for women over 45 remained stable, noted the report.

Teen Births Fell

Among teenagers, the birth rate fell to 43 births per 1,000 females 15-19 years of age in 2002, a 5-percent decline from 2001 and a 28-percent decline from 1990. The decline in the birth rate for younger teens, 15-17 years of age, is even more substantial, dropping 38 percent from 1990 to 2002 compared to a drop of 18 percent for teens 18-19.

"The reduction in teen pregnancy has clearly been one of the most important public health success stories of the past decade," said then Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson in a CDC press release. "The fact that this decline in teen births is continuing represents a significant accomplishment."

Cesarean Births Hit All Time High

More than one fourth of all children born in 2002 were delivered by cesarean; the total cesarean delivery rate of 26.1 percent was the highest level ever reported in the United States.

The rate of women giving birth by cesarean for the first time – called primary cesareans - increased by 7 percent from 2001, to 18 percent for 2002, also the highest level ever reported. The primary cesarean rate had risen 23 percent from the low of 14.6 percent reported for 1996-97, according to the CDC.

Prenatal Care on the Increase

Prenatal care utilization continued to slowly but steadily improve; 83.8 percent of women began prenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancy in 2002 compared with 83.4 in 2001.

Among other significant findings included:

  • In 2002, there were 4,019,280 births in the United States, down slightly from the 4,025,933 reported in 2001.
  • The percent of low birth weight babies (infants born weighing less than 2,500 grams or about 5.5 pounds) increased to 7.8 percent, up from 7.7 percent in 2001 and the highest level in more than 30 years. In addition, the percent of preterm births (infants born at less than 37 weeks of gestation) increased slightly over 2001, from 11.9 percent to 12 percent.
  • More than one-third of all births were to unmarried women.
  • The birth rate for unmarried women was down slightly in 2002 to 43.6 per 1,000 unmarried women, reflecting the growing number of unmarried women in the population.
  • Access to prenatal care continued a slow and steady increase. In 2002, 83.8 percent of women began receiving prenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancy, up from 83.4 percent in 2001 and 75.8 percent in 1990.

UPDATE: In December 2015, the CDC reported that a total of 3,988,076 births were registered in the United States during 2014, an increase of 1 percent from 2013. The fertility rate for women aged 15-44 also increased slightly to 62.9 births per 1,000 women, the first increase in fertility rate since 2007. The teen birth rate fell by 9 percent from 2013, to 24.2 per 1,000 females aged 15–19.

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Longley, Robert. "U.S. Birth Rate Hits All-Time Low." ThoughtCo, May. 16, 2016, thoughtco.com/us-birth-rate-all-time-low-3319905. Longley, Robert. (2016, May 16). U.S. Birth Rate Hits All-Time Low. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/us-birth-rate-all-time-low-3319905 Longley, Robert. "U.S. Birth Rate Hits All-Time Low." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/us-birth-rate-all-time-low-3319905 (accessed November 21, 2017).