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The United States birth rate fell another 4% in 2020 despite expectations that the U.S. would see a “baby boom” as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and associated lockdowns. The rate is now at the “lowest point since federal health officials started tracking it more than a century ago,” according to The Associated Press.
“The U.S. birth rate fell 4% last year, the largest single-year decrease in nearly 50 years, according to a government report being released Wednesday,” the AP reported. ‘The rate dropped for moms of every major race and ethnicity, and in nearly every age group, falling to the lowest point since federal health officials started tracking it more than a century ago.”
“About 3.6 million babies were born in the U.S. last year, down from about 3.75 million in 2019,” the AP noted. “When births were booming in 2007, the U.S. recorded 4.3 million births.”
The drop is alarming, as it puts the U.S. at the lowest birth rate since the end of the “baby boom” that followed World War II. “The U.S. birth rate dropped to about 56 births per 1,000 women of child-bearing age, the lowest rate on record. The rate is half of what it was in the early 1960s.”
“Births have been declining in younger women for years, as many postponed motherhood and had smaller families,” the outlet added, though the government believes a combination of factors — including economic and cultural — have contributed to the drop in fertility. Previously, birth rates for mothers in their 30s and 40s were on an uptick, but “not last year.”
The pandemic, it seems, may have actually contributed to the decline, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite expectations that couples might become parents because of the extended quarantine, would-be parents seem to have avoided having children during COVID-19, perhaps over concerns about bringing a child into a world that had yet to contain the virus.
“While the agency didn’t directly attribute the overall drop in births to the COVID-19 pandemic, it looked at birth rates among New York City women who delivered their babies outside the five boroughs during the height of the outbreak in the U.S.,” CNBC added. “Women fled the city to give birth from March through November last year, with out-of-town births among NYC residents peaking in April and May at more than 10% for both months — a more than 70% increase from the previous year. Among white women, the percentage of out-of-town births was 2.5 times higher in 2020 than 2019. Out-of-town births among Black and Hispanic women were considerably lower and increased only for two of the months last year.”
The study indicates that women may have been concerned about delivering babies in hospitals where COVID-19 was present, particularly those in New York City, widely considered the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States.
Many of the 2020 pregnancies, the study found, began before the COVID-19 lockdowns, according to the report.
There is good news in the report, despite concerns that, at 1.6 births for every death, the United States is perilously close to falling below the “replacement rate” for its own population. Teen birth rates “dropped considerably,” and the number of children born before 37 weeks gestation fell a shocking 10% during 2020.
The latter phenomenon — a “significant reduction” in premature births — left doctors bewildered, according to a New York Times report from July. Lockdown may have benefitted pregnant mothers and if the phenomenon is confirmed, it could have significant ramifications for prenatal care.