U.S. birth rates decline: Blame recession?

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(CBS/AP) Maybe babies are just too darn expensive. That's the reason some experts are giving for a record decline in birth rates among young American women.

A new CDC study found that birth rates for teens and women in their early 20s are the lowest since the 1940s. Rates fell 6 percent among women in their early 20s. The study also found there were 34.3 births per every 1,000 teenagers in 2010 - down 9 percent from 2009's rates.

The report - published in the Nov. 17 issue of National Vital Statistics Reports -also found there were 4 million births last year, down from 4.13 million in 2009. The report showed a decline in the national birth rate dropped for the third straight year. Declines were reported among women of all ages and races.

Why are fewer Americans giving birth?

U.S. birth rates have been dropping since reaching all-time high in 2007 and experts believe the downward trend is tied to the bad economy. The theory is that women with money worries - especially younger women - feel they can't afford to start a family or add to it.

"I don't think there's any doubt now that it was the recession," said Carl Haub, a demographer with the Washington, D.C.-based Population Reference Bureau, who was not involved with the study. "It could not be anything else."

That's true of 27-year-old advertising executive Mary Garrick of Columbus, Ohio. She and her husband, David, married in 2008 and hoped to start having children quickly. But David, 33, was laid off that year from his nursing job and again last year.

"It kind of made us cautious about life decisions, like having a family," Mary said. It's definitely something that affected us," she said.

A few of the report's findings surprised experts. One involved a statistic called the total fertility rate. In essence, it tells how many children a woman can be expected to have if current birth rates continue. That figure was 1.9 children last year. In most years, it's around 2.1.

More striking was the change in the fertility rate for Hispanic women, which plummeted to 2.4 from 3 children just a few years ago.

Another shocker: The C-section rate. It rose steadily from nearly 21 percent in 1996 to 32.9 percent in 2009, but it dropped slightly to 32.8 last year.

"The highest-risk deliveries are in teenage moms and you've got a big drop in teenage moms, and I suspect that cesarean sections are dropping because (a) they aren't needed, and (b) because you are having fewer high-risk births, because you are having fewer teenage pregnancies," Dr. Daniel Armstrong, professor of pediatrics at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told HealthDay.

Cesarean deliveries are sometimes medically necessary. But health officials have worried that many C-sections are done out of convenience or unwarranted caution, and in the 1980s set a goal of keeping the national rate at 15 percent.

"There are strong winds pushing against C-sections," including new policies and education initiatives that discourage elective C-sections in mothers who have not reached full-term, said Carol Hogue, an Emory University professor of maternal and child health and epidemiology.

Hogue agreed that the economy seems to be the main reason for the birth declines. But she noted that it's possible that having fewer children is now more accepted and expected.

"Having one child may be becoming more `normal,'" she said.