American women had fewer children in 2017 than in any year since 1987, according to a new report released by the Centers for Disease and Prevention Thursday. And the overall birth rate was the lowest ever recorded in the US. While there are some positive trends in the report, such as fewer teen pregnancies, there are also plenty of worrying ones, like more premature births.
The report is a preliminary estimate of births that took place in 2017, based on birth certificate data collected by the National Center for Health Statistics. It found that there were just over 3.85 million births in 2017, down 2 percent from 3.94 million in 2016. It’s the lowest total recorded since 1987, and the third straight-year decline in births, following an increase in 2014.
The overall birth rate among women aged 18 to 44 was about 60 births per 1,000 women, down 3 percent from the 2016 rate and a new record low for the country. The rate of premature births also increased for the third year in a row, up to 9.93 percent of all births. And the total fertility rate was 1.76 children per every woman over a lifetime, the lowest seen since 1976.
“The decline in the [total fertility] rate from 2016 to 2017 was the largest single-year decline since 2010,” the report noted.
Total fertility rate is pretty important to a country’s future, since it’s used to figure out whether a generation will be able to replace itself. The baseline replacement rate can differ, depending on how often a country’s children die young, but for most countries, including the US, it’s around 2.1 children per woman. The US has generally been below this baseline since 1971, according to the report, but it’s not as bad as other countries, like Singapore and Greece. And we’re nowhere near the Handmaid’s Tale or Children of Men scenarios.
Breaking the report down further, there were differences in who exactly is and isn’t getting pregnant.
Black women, for instance, had the same number of children as they did in 2016, as did Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women. Women of every other major ethnic or racial group saw a drop in births.
The teen birth rate continued to fall steadily, a decline that began in 1991. Births among women of most age groups took a slight decline, except for women aged 40 to 49. The small decrease in births among women aged 30 to 39 was the first seen since 2011, while births among women aged 20 to 29 have been slightly falling for some time.
As for why births are dropping, some experts have blamed everything from declining sperm quality to those blasted millennials who are choosing to start families later in life or who don’t even want to have children at all.