by Kevin Schofield
Every year the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), releases updated statistics on births and fertility rates in the United States, and this week it published figures for 2020. There have been plenty of predictions about what effect the pandemic would have on births, with some (including myself) guessing that with everyone cooped up at home we might see a mini baby boom.
Alas, it was not so. There were 3,605,201 births in the U.S. last year, a 4% drop from 2019. Birth rates declined across all age groups except for the youngest teenagers and the oldest women. Other than a slight bump up in 2014, the number of births in the United States has been steadily dropping since 2007, and 2020 saw the lowest level of births since 1979.
The Center for Health Statistics also calculates the “total fertility rate” for the United States, an estimate of the number of births that a hypothetical group of 1,000 women would have over their lifetimes. The key benchmark for total fertility rate is the “replacement rate,” the number of births required for a generation to maintain the current population. The replacement rate is 2,100: Above that number and the population is growing; below it and the population shrinks. Last year, the U.S. total fertility rate was 1,637.5, well below the replacement rate. According to the report, it has been below the replacement rate consistently since 2007, and generally since 1971. The continued population growth in the United States, despite the low replacement rate, depends heavily upon robust immigration.
There is some good news in the report as well. Births among teenagers declined again in 2020, continuing a long, steady drop. Also, the preterm birth rate also dropped slightly, for the first time since 2014.
More concerning, however, is the rate of cesarean births, which ticked up slightly to 31.8% of all births in 2020 after several years of decline. The rate of “low risk” cesarean births, also increased a bit to 25.9%. Both of these statistics suggest worrying trends in the increase in use of a surgical procedure to deliver babies.
The annual report breaks out the data by age, race/ethnicity, and state. It’s a fascinating look into the future population of our country.
Kevin Schofield is a freelance writer and publishes Seattle Paper Trail. Previously he worked for Microsoft, published Seattle City Council Insight, co-hosted the “Seattle News, Views and Brews” podcast, and raised two daughters as a single dad. He serves on the Board of Directors of Woodland Park Zoo, where he also volunteers.
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