U.S. Birth Rate Hits a New Record Low

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Bernd Vogel/Corbis

America’s birth rate was lower in 2009 than at any other time in the past century, the AP reports – and many experts feel that the economic downturn is to blame.

In 2009, the total number of births across the country fell for the second year in a row – from 4,247,000 in 2008 to 4,136,000, according to provisional data released Friday by the National Center for Health Statistics. No doubt about it: By historical standards, 4 million babies is still a lot of new kids coming into the world. But the rate — the number of births per 1,000 people already alive — is very low indeed. There were roughly 4 million babies born in the U.S. in 1960 too, but back then the population was only 60% as large it is today — so that the birth rate back then was much higher. In 2009, the new data shows, there were only 13.5 live births for every 1,000 U.S. residents.

Many statisticians and social scientists say it’s no coincidence that birth rates fell at the same time that the economy sputtered.

“When the economy is bad and people are uncomfortable about their financial future, they tend to postpone having children,” Andrew Cherlin, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University, told AP.

This is not the first time fertility rates have dipped during times of economic strife either. U.S. birth rates plummeted during the Great Depression. But they later rebounded strongly during the baby boom years — and economic boom years — of the late 1940s and the 1950s.

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