(CBS News) - The number of babies born in the U.S. hit the lowest level in more than three decades last year, furthering the country's ongoing "baby bust." Experts say the coronavirus pandemic is likely to drive down numbers even further.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released preliminary data Wednesday indicating that American women are now expected to have an average of approximately 1.71 children over their lifetimes. That means that, once again, Americans are not having enough babies to replace previous generations.
Based on a review of more than 99% of all birth certificates, 3.75 million babies were born in the U.S. last year, down about 1% from 2018 and the lowest number since 1985. Births in the U.S. have fallen every year since 2007 except for a slight uptick in 2014, the CDC said.
Teen births, in particular, continued declining to a new record low.
Reflecting a trend of having children later in life compared to previous generations, birth rates fell for women in their 20s and early 30s, but continued to rise for women in their 40s. High rents, low-paying jobs and exorbitant college debt are just a few of the factors pushing millennials towards having fewer children at a later age, experts say.
The CDC report also found:
- The rate of births to women ages 15 to 44, known as the general fertility rate, sank to a record low of 58.2 per 1,000.
- Teen birth rates have plummeted 73% since 1991. They are down 5% from 2018, a record low for the age group.
- The cesarean section delivery rate dropped to under 32%.
- The percentage of infants born at less than 37 weeks of gestation rose for the fifth straight year, to more than 10%.
- Most races experienced a decline, but births increased 3% among Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders and remained constant among Hispanic women.
Some experts believe the COVID-19 pandemic may further depress birth rates this year.
“This unpredictable environment, and anxiety about the future, is going to make women think twice about having children,” Dr. Denise Jamieson, chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Emory University, told The Associated Press.
Additionally, infertility treatments have been paused in many cases, and economic instability is often a major contributor to low birth rates.
While some have suggested that birth rates could actually go up due to the pandemic, as a result of decreased access to birth control and abortions coupled with more free time at home, most are wary of such predictions.
The concept of a boom in "coronababies" is "widely perceived as a myth," Hans-Peter Kohler, a University of Pennsylvania fertility researcher, told AP.
Brady Hamilton, the CDC report’s lead author, cautioned that it is impossible to predict how exactly the pandemic will impact births. The effects won’t become clear until later 2020 or early 2021, Hamilton said.