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The number of babies born in the U.S. every year is carefully monitored by federal health agencies. They use these numbers to show trends over time, many of which are quite fascinating.
In reading these statistics, you’ll probably see the numbers align with your own life experiences compared to previous generations.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the U.S. was just shy of 4 million babies being born in 2015. This means there were 12.4 births for every 1,000 people in the country and 62.5 births per 1,000 women of child-bearing age (defined as ages 15 to 44). This total number of births per 1,000 population—known as the “fertility rate”—follows an overall statistical trend of decreasing births. The total number of babies born in 2015 was a 1% increase from the year before, thanks to the advanced medical treatments that allow women in their late 30s and 40s to conceive and carry pregnancies to term.
The all-time high birth count in the U.S. was in 2007 at 4,316,233. However, that number has been steadily declining in the past decade as part of what some experts are calling “The Baby Bust”—an opposite coining to the “Baby Boom” that occurred in the U.S. from 1946 to 1964 during which the country saw a significant rise in births.
The mean age for a first time mother giving birth in 2015 was 26.4 years old, the highest it has ever been. In 2014, the average age was 26, and in 1970 it was 21.4. Though the U.S. is seeing its highest average first-time mother age, it’s still not quite as high as the averages in some European countries like the U.K. (average age 28.6 in 2015) or even Australia (average age 30.1)
Finally, the average number of births per woman has decreased from 3.7 in 1960 to 1.8 in 2015. This same trend can be seen worldwide, as reported by WorldBank.org. On average, women in the United States and around the world are having fewer children.
One of the more interesting trends in the past few years has been the decrease in births to unmarried mothers, which in 2008 topped out at 52%. By 2015, the number was below majority at 40.3%, a sharp turn around for such a short period of time. Some of this decrease is attributed to better gender education and better access to birth control, which has decreased the rate of teenage pregnancies. Other factors include the slowing of national fertility during the beginning of the economic recession in 2007.
Playing into this statistical trend is the increasing number of cohabiting couples who live together but are not legally married. In fact, the “cohabiting” tag was not even used in these statistics until the early 2000s. According to Pew Research, in 2015, an all-time low of 62% of children lived in a home with two married parents.
Of course, these statistics tell a slightly different story at the state level.
In 2015, the state of Utah had the highest birth rate, topping out at 80.9 births per 1,000 women compared to the 62.5 average for the nation. Other high birth rate states (classified as >70 births per 1,000 women) included Alaska, Texas, Hawaii, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Oklahoma.
On the other end of the spectrum, the state with the lowest birth rate in 2015 was New Hampshire at 50.8 births per 1,000 women. Other low birth rate states (>60 per 1,000 women) included Connecticut, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maine, Florida, Oregon, Rhode Island, and the District of Columbia.
On sheer totals alone, California, Texas and New York registered the most births. This makes sense because these three states make the top 4 most populous states. Interestingly, the third most populous state, Florida, was actually ranked as one of the lowest birth rates.
The average age at which a woman has her first baby is also affected by state. West coast states like California, Oregon and Washington saw the highest increases in first-time maternal age, while states like Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Ohio saw smaller increases. But in 2015, no state in the U.S. saw a decrease in average first-time maternal age.
Statisticians and sociologists are very intrigued by the recent changes in these trends.
Generally speaking, experts believe the economic crash of 2007-8 influenced the United State’s birth rate. Other contributing factors include the increase in women taking on managerial or senior level positions in the workforce, making them more likely to put off having kids in order to focus on their careers. Some experts cite the lack of adequate maternity leave and the affordability of healthcare as another reason women may choose to delay starting a family.
We also understand some factors that have affected the increase in first-time mothers’ ages. The rate of teenage motherhood is on the decline thanks to better education and birth control access, while innovations in healthcare and infertility treatments have allowed more women to safely have babies in in their 40s.