Birthrate figures for nation, teens hit record lows

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The U.S. birthrate is at its lowest level since data collection started in 1909, primarily because fewer young women are having children, the federal government said yesterday.

The teen birthrate also fell to a record low, with the steepest decline among girls of high school age, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) said in its preliminary report on U.S. births in 2002.

However, the portion of births to unwed mothers crept to a high point of 33.8 percent.

Some of these changes in fertility reflect the aging of the baby boom population and a national propensity for Americans to live longer, said the NCHS, an agency of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

NCHS researcher Brady Hamilton also said women of prime childbearing age are having fewer babies.

A nation needs 2.1 children per woman to maintain its population, Mr. Hamilton said. The United States is below replacement level, with 2.0 children per woman.

The overall birthrate in the United States for 2002 was 13.9 births per 1,000 people. That was a 1 percent decline from 2001, when the birthrate was 14.1 births per 1,000. It was a 17 percent decline from 1990, when the birthrate reached 16.7 births per 1,000 people, the NCHS said.

There were 4,019,280 births in 2002, down slightly from 4,025,933 in 2001.

The birthrate for women in their young 20s fell 3 percent to 103.5 births per 1,000 women in that age group, and remained stable at 113.6 births per 1,000 for women ages 25 to 29, he said. The biggest birthrate increases were among women 35 and older.

Among teens, the 2002 birthrate fell 5 percent from the previous year and was 28 percent lower than in 1990. It fell to 42.9 births per 1,000 girls and women ages 15 to 19.

The birthrate for girls ages 15 to 17 was 23.2 births per 1,000, a 6 percent drop from 2001 and a 38 percent decline from 1990.

Birthrates also fell modestly for older teens.

“The reduction in teen pregnancy has clearly been one of the most important public health success stories of the past decade,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said yesterday.

Sarah Brown, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, said, “Credit for this good news goes to teens themselves, who increasingly recognize the importance of waiting to have sex and waiting to get pregnant and have children.”

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