ATLANTA The U.S. teen birth rate in 2009 fell to its lowest point in almost 70 years of record-keeping a decline that stunned experts who believe its partly because of the recession.
The birth rate for teenagers fell to 39 births per 1,000 girls, ages 15 through 19, according to a government report released last week. It was a 6 percent decline from the previous year, and the lowest since health officials started tracking the rate in 1940.
Experts say the recent recession from December 2007 to June 2009 was a major factor driving down births overall, and theres good reason to think it affected would-be teen mothers.
Im not suggesting that teens are examining futures of 401(k)s or how the market is doing, said Sarah Brown, chief executive of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
But I think they are living in families that experience that stress. They are living next door to families that lost their jobs. ... The recession has touched us all, Brown said.
Teenage mothers, who account for about 10 percent of the nations births, are not unique. The total number of births also has been dropping, as have birth rates among all women except those 40 and older.
For comparison, look to the peak year of teen births 1957. There were about 96 births per 1,000 teen girls that year, but it was a different era, when women married younger, said Stephanie Ventura, a co-author of the report issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC births report is based on a review of most birth certificates for 2009.
Overall, about 4.1 million babies were born in 2009, down almost 3 percent from 2008. Its the second consecutive drop in births, which had been on the rise since 2000.
The trend may continue: A preliminary count of U.S. births through the first six months of this year suggests a continuing drop, CDC officials said.
A decline in immigration to the United States, blamed on the weak job market, is another factor cited for the lower birth rate. A large proportion of immigrants are Hispanic, and Hispanics accounted for nearly 1 in 4 births in 2009. The birth rate among Hispanic teens is the highest of any ethnic group with 70 births per 1,000 girls in 2009. However, that rate, too, was down from the previous year.
Other findings in the new report include:
b The cesarean delivery rate rose yet again, to about 33 percent of births. The C-section rate has been rising every year since 1996.
b The pre-term birth rate, for infants delivered at less than 37 weeks of pregnancy, dropped for the third consecutive year to about 12 percent of all births. It had been generally increasing since the early 1980s.
b Birth rates were down from 2008 in almost every group of women of childbearing age. The birth rate for women in their early 20s plummeted 7 percent, the largest decline for that age group since 1973.
The one exception was women older than 40 a group that may be more concerned with declining fertility than the economy. The birth rate for women ages 40 to 44 was up 3 percent from 2008, to about 10 births per 1,000 women. Thats the highest rate for that group since 1967.
The drop in birth rates was less pronounced in women in their 30s than women in their 20s, said Carol Hogue, an Emory University professor of maternal and child health and epidemiology.
If women feel they are up against a biological clock, that is a counterbalance to I cant afford to have a baby right now, she said.
CDC officials said the most striking change was the decline among teens, and some experts credited popular culture as playing a role. The issue of teen pregnancy got a lot of attention through Bristol Palin, the unmarried daughter of former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Bristol Palin had a baby boy in December 2008. Teen pregnancy is also cast in a harsh light by 16 and Pregnant, a popular MTV reality show that first aired in 2009 and chronicles the difficulties teen mothers face.
Gabriela Briela, 17, a high school senior in Chicago, believes TV shows like that one are a big factor. She also credits sex education that goes beyond abstinence and advises birth control for teens who have sex.
Briela recalled one of her eighth-grade teachers telling students to write down how they would tell their parents if they became pregnant.
Its something that I still keep with me. It forced you to really ponder that thought and think about the consequences, she said.