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Overall birth rates are down, but up for older women

April 6, 2010 | 12:08 pm

The number of U.S. births dropped 2% in 2008 to 4,251,095, with birth rates down for virtually all groups except older women, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday.  Researchers attributed the decline to the bad economy that began that year, which reduced women's desire to have children and limited immigration because of a reduction in the number of jobs available.  The exception to the general decline was among women over the age of 40, where researchers suspect the pressure to have a child before it is too late is overriding economic concerns.

Preliminary data from 2009 suggest that the birth rate dropped about 3% that year.Baby

Perhaps the best news in the new report is a drop in the percentage of premature births from 12.7% to 12.3%, the second straight year of decline. That may seem like a small amount, but it means about 14,000 fewer babies were born prematurely in 2008, with all the attendant risks associated with it. The decrease follows a 20% rise in the rate of premature births from 1990 to 2006. No one is quite sure why the decrease occurred, but experts suspect it arises from an increased effort to bring pregnancies full term and to limit the number of embryos implanted in artificial reproduction attempts.

Other good news is that the teen birth rate dropped 2% in 2009, down to a rate of 41.5 births per 1,000 teenagers age 15 to 19. The birth rate for Hispanic teenagers fell to 77.4 births per 1,000, the lowest rate reported for this group since the CDC began keeping track of it two decades ago.

The birth rate for unmarried women age 15 to 44 declined almost 2% in 2009 to 52 per 1,000, the first decline in this group since a much smaller decline in 2002. Despite that decline, however, the total number of births to unmarried women and the percentage of births attributed to them reached historic levels in 2008, according to the report.

Perhaps the worst news in the report is that the cesarean delivery rate continued to climb for the 12th straight year, reaching 32.3%. Increases were seen among women of all age groups and most racial and ethnic groups.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II

Isaac Jimenez was born April 1, making him one of the last children to be counted in the 2010 census. Credit: Christina House / For The Times