Births in the U.S. Increase for the First Time Since 1990

For Release: Tuesday, March 28, 2000

Contact: NCHS Press Office (301) 458-4800


Births: Final Data for 1998. Vol. 48, No. 3. 100 pp. (PHS) 2000-1120. [PDF – 6.2 MB]

The number of births in the United States rose in 1998 for the first time since 1990, according to a new report released today.

“Births: Final Data for 1998,” prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, shows that 3,941,553 babies were born in 1998, a 2 percent increase from 1997. The birth rate (the number of births per 1,000 population) and the fertility rate (the number of births per 1,000 women aged 15-44) also increased slightly in 1998.

The increase in the number of U.S. births was fueled by increases in birth rates for women in their twenties, the principal childbearing ages, and for women in their thirties. According to the report, the birth rate for women in their early twenties (20-24) increased in 1998 after falling 6 percent during the 1990’s, and birth rates for women in their thirties are now at their highest levels in at least three decades. Meanwhile, the overall birth rate for teens aged 15-19 dropped 2 percent in 1998, to 51.1 per 1,000 teens aged 15-19. Overall, the teen birth rate declined by 18 percent from 1991 to 1998, with all states recording a decline in the birth rate of 15-19 year-olds between 1991 and 1998.

  • Twin births also continued to increase in 1998, by 6 percent to 110,670 — the largest single year increase in several decades — and the number of triplets and other higher order multiple births climbed 13 percent to 7,625. Since 1980, the twin birth rate has risen 49 percent and the triplet and other higher order multiple birth rate has risen 423 percent.

Driven by the growing number of unmarried women of childbearing age (15-44 years), the number of births to unmarried women also rose to 1,293,567 in 1998. The percent of all births to unmarried women also increased from 32.4 percent in 1997 to 32.8 percent in 1998, while the birth rate for unmarried women increased slightly to 44.3 births per 1,000 unmarried women aged 15-44 in 1998. However, the teen out-of-wedlock birth rate dropped again in 1998, to 41.5 births per 1,000 unmarried teens aged 15-19, down 11 percent from its high in 1994.

“The continued improvement in teen birth rates is good news for all of us who are working to help our teenagers make responsible choices,” said HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala. “And I’m also pleased that the number of pregnant women receiving prenatal care has continued to increase, while the number of pregnant women who smoke during pregnancy has continued to decline. However, the increase in births to unmarried mothers, as well as the increase in teen mothers who smoke, are troubling.”

The new report contains a variety of other important findings:

  • An increase in the primary cesarean rate of delivery for the first time since 1989 and a decline in the rate of vaginal birth following a previous cesarean delivery — the second consecutive year of decline after jumping 50 percent during 1989-96.
  • The rate of first births declined to its lowest level ever, 26.4 first births per 1,000 women aged 15-44.
  • The rate of preterm births (less than 37 completed weeks of gestation) rose to 11.6 percent in 1998, and has risen 9 percent since 1990 and 23 percent since 1981. The low birthweight rate (less than 5.5 pounds) also continued to rise, increasing to 7.6 percent for 1998. The low birthweight rate has risen quite steadily since the mid-1980’s. The upswing in the overall levels of preterm and low birthweight births is influenced in part by the increase in multiple births; multiples tend to be born earlier and smaller than singletons.
  • The proportion of women beginning prenatal care in the first trimester rose again for the 9th consecutive year, to 82.8 percent in 1998. Timely care has risen 10 percent during the 1990’s.
  • Cigarette smoking during pregnancy declined again in 1998, to 12.9 percent, continuing a trend observed since 1989. However, tobacco use by pregnant teenagers continued to increase in 1998, particularly for non-Hispanic black teens.

“This increase in tobacco use among pregnant teens is very disturbing. It puts a troubling spotlight on two of our biggest national concerns — teen pregnancy and tobacco use among young people in the country,” said CDC director Jeffrey P. Koplan. “Reducing teen smoking is a top priority at CDC. This year we will spend nearly $100 million to fund state tobacco control and prevention programs. In addition, we will continue to advocate that states use money from the master tobacco settlement for tobacco prevention and control efforts.”

“Births: Final Data for 1998” can be downloaded directly from the National Center for Health Statistics Website.