U.S. Birth Rate Hits Record Low

Preschool children from the Susan Patricof Head Start program watch El Museo del Barrio's 34th annual Three Kings Day parade, Thursday, Jan. 6, 2011, in New York. The Three Kings Day Parade is an annual celebration in New York City that commemorates the most festive day of the winter season in Latin American culture. The celebration is designed to pay tribute to the day that the three kings came to visit baby Jesus.  (AP2011)

The U.S. birth rate dropped to its lowest level in more than 90 years, led by a drop among immigrants, according to a report data released Thursday by the Pew Research Center.

In 2011, the overall birth rate was 63.2 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, the lowest since at least 1920, Pew reported, citing numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics. The birth rate reached 122.7 in 1957, the peak of the Baby Boom. After the mid-1970s, the birth rate stabilized at about 65 to 70 births per 1,000 women annually, until the beginning of the Great Recession.

Since 2007, both the U.S. birth rate (the number of live births per 1,000 women ages 15-44) and the number of births have dropped significantly, according to the report.

Overall, the birth rate declined 8 percent from 2007 to 2010.  Among U.S.-born women, the birth rate dropped 6 percent. The decline among foreign-born women was 14 percent. Among Mexican women, the birth rate fell even more, to 23 percent.

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Despite the recent decline, foreign-born moms continue to give birth to a disproportionate share of the country's babies, the report said. In 2010, immigrants represented about 13 percent of the U.S. population while foreign-born mothers accounted for 23 percent of all births.

After 2007, the number of U.S. births, which had been rising since 2002, fell abruptly, according to the report. This decrease was also led by immigrant women. Overall the number of births between 2007 and 2010 dropped 7 percent, pulled down by a 13-percent drop in births to immigrants. By comparison, births to U.S.-born women dropped only 5 percent.

The Pew researchers attributed that drop to a change in behavior (the falling birth rates) rather than a change in the number of women (those born in the U.S. or immigrants) of childbearing age.

An earlier Pew report attributed the recent fertility decline to "economic distress." The study showed that states with the largest economic declines between 2007 and 2008 were most likely to experience relatively large fertility declines the following year.

Hispanic women - both those born in and those born outside the U.S. - experienced larger birth-rate declines from 2007 to 2010 than other groups. They also experienced greater percentage declines in household wealth than white, black, or Asian households between 2005 and 2009, according to the report. Latinos also experienced a greater rise in poverty and unemployment than non-Latinos after the Great Recession began.

The recent decline in births to foreign-born moms reversed a trend in which immigrant women accounted for a rising share of the country's births, according to the report. In 2007, immigrant mothers accounted for a quarter of all U.S. births, compared to 16 percent in 1990. By 2010, foreign-born moms accounted for 23 percent of all births.

Despite the drop-off among the foreign-born, Pew population projections indicate that immigrants who arrived since 2005 and their descendants will account for 82 percent of U.S. population growth by 2050. Even taking the recent decline in immigration into account, new immigrants and their descendants are still expected to lead most of the nation's population increase by mid-century, according to the report.

Other findings:

  • The majority of births (66 percent) to U.S.-born women were to white mothers. That share has dropped since 1990 when it was 72 percent. The majority of births to foreign-born mothers were to Hispanic moms. 
  • Teen mothers make up a greater share of births among U.S.-born women (11 percent in 2010) than foreign-born mothers (5 percent).
  • Mothers ages 35 and older make up a higher share of births to immigrants (21 percent in 2010) than to moms born in the U.S. (13 percent). Mothers born outside the country accounted for more than a third of births to women ages 35 and older that year.