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WETZSTEIN: Birth numbers breaking records

- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 29, 2009

The federal government's new report on births virtually explodes with news. Here are a few bottom lines.

Quantity of births? Up. In fact, 2007 saw a historic high of 4.3 million births.

Quality of births, i.e., home environment? Probably down. The unwed birthrate jumped another percentage point, and the number of teen births rose for the second year. These trends point to hundreds of thousands more babies being raised in fatherless homes.

What else is in the data? Obviously, lots of sexual activity is taking place, in and out of marriage. It also shows a genuine rejection of abortion and an intentional delay of marriage.

First, the good news, then some reality checks.

America's 2007 fertility rate, for the second year in a row, is a healthy, enviable 2.1 births per 1,000 women. This means our population is perfectly stable — we are having just enough babies to replace ourselves.

Having ample numbers of young Americans in the pipeline means our prospects for economic growth, innovation and prosperity are excellent.

If you doubt the value of a 2.1 fertility rate, look at Japan, which has fallen back into a recession. Japan's fertility rate has slid for decades and is now on a virtual respirator, with 1.2 babies per 1,000 women.

With precious few young Japanese available to work (and consume goods) and a growing population of elders who need care and support, barring a sea change in its immigration policy or family culture, Japan's recession may well be permanent.

In contrast, America saw 4.3 million births in 2007, the "highest number ever registered," surpassing even the famed baby boom years, said the National Center for Health Statistics.

So American babies are busting out all over, but what kind of families are they being born into? That's where we get to the "quality" questions.

Most babies — 60 percent — are still born into married homes, but that number is shrinking. When Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, for instance, nearly 70 percent of babies were born to married couples.

The current social acceptance of fatherless homes and/or cohabiting homes is a catastrophe for our country. Babies, toddlers, children and teens don't need a parade of parental boyfriends and girlfriends passing through their lives. They need to be raised in secure, loving homes, preferably by the man and woman who created them, and who are devoted to each other as well as to them.

Children raised in unstable homes suffer and struggle, and too many of them end up spreading misery to others when they become adults. How many sad stories must we hear to grasp this simple fact of life? Boys and girls want and need to grow up with their married moms and dads.

But the new 2007 data shows that a record 1.7 million babies were born to unmarried women, including 386,702 born to unwed teens.

Final observations. The new birth numbers reflect a rejection of abortion. Many of the 2007 births were unexpected, and with affordable pregnancy tests in every drugstore, they didn't go undetected for long.

Yet birthrates are rising while abortion rates keep dropping. (There were 19.4 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 in 2005, a third less than the peak rate in 1981). Papa, don't preach. I'm keeping my baby.

The new data also show that when it comes to life choices, many women are shopping for strollers at Babies R Us before getting their fittings at David's Bridal.

Marriage eventually comes — by age 35, 82 percent of U.S. women have become a bride; by age 70, it's up to 97 percent.

The big question remains how to get more young couples to do what Grandma and Grandpa did, which is to marry first so there are four loving arms ready to welcome each baby.

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.