Well Being

Birth Rates Mature: Less Teens, More Women 35+ Having Babies

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I love how every year headlines proclaim “U.S. Birth Rate at Historic Low,” as if this is unexpected, as if this isn't the new normal. We're not having the babies like we used to, gals, what with our educations and careers and refusals to marry the first schlub who'll take us. Cue the natalist handwringing! Except … what do we have here? In the latest annual data (from 2011), it seems birth rates are down across all age groups except the 35- to 45-year-old crowd.

Let's take a closer look. According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:

  • 3,953,593 babies were born in the U.S. in 2011 — 1% fewer than in 2010 and 4% fewer than in 2009. The general fertility rate — the number of births per 1,000 women ages 15 through 44 — also fell by 1% (to 63.2, down from 64.1 in 2010)
  • The birth rate among all teenagers (ages 15-19) fell 8%, reaching a historic low of 31.3 births per 1,000 teens (the teen birthrate is now down 49% since its most recent peak in 1991). The birth rate fell 11% among younger teens (ages 15-17) and 7% among 18- to 19-year-olds.
  • The birth rate fell 5% for women 20- to 24-years-old and 1% for 25- to 29-year-olds.* The birth rate for women 30- to 34-years-old remained unchanged.
  • The birth rate for women 35- to 39-years-old went up 3% and the birth rate among 40- to 44-years-olds up 1%* (the highest rate for this age group since 1967). About 4.7% of women in their late 30s and a little over one percent in their early 40s had a baby in 2011

Taken all together, there's a lot to like in the 2011 birthrate data, I'd say. Less teen pregnancies. More women waiting until they're older — and more educated, financially secure, romantically stable, or in myriad other ways more “ready” — to bring children into the world. A general trending upward (notice the early-20s birth rate fell 5% but the late 20s birthrate just 1%).

Yes, there are real fertility concerns to be aware of if you're putting off having children until your thirties and forties. But there are also real benefits. Next time you hear someone yammering on about how young women aren't having babies like we used to, point them to this data and tell them no, we certainly are not — and that's probably a good thing.

* I can't access the full article and neither the abstract nor anywhere else online seems to say, so this figure (and any others followed by an asterisk) are taken from preliminary data released in October 2012.