U.S. Birth Rate Reaches Record Low

Births to Teens Continue 12-Year Decline; Cesarean Deliveries Reach All-Time High

For Release: Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Contact: NCHS Press Office (301) 458-4800

E-mail: paoquery@cdc.gov

Births: Preliminary Data for 2002. NVSR Vol. 51, No. 11. 20 pp. (PHS) 2003-1120. [PDF – 1.2 MB]

The U.S. birth rate fell to the lowest level since national data have been available, reports the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) birth statistics released today by HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. Secretary Thompson also noted that the rate of teen births fell to a new record low, continuing a decline that began in 1991.

The birth rate was 13.9 per 1,000 persons in 2002, a decline of 1 percent from the rate of 14.1 per 1,000 in 2001 and down 17 percent from the recent peak in 1990 (16.7 per 1,000), according to a new CDC report, “Births: Preliminary Data for 2002.” The current low birth rate primarily reflects the smaller proportion of women of childbearing age in the U.S. population, as baby boomers age and Americans are living longer.

There has also been a recent downturn in the birth rate for women in the peak childbearing ages. Birth rates for women in their 20s and early 30s were generally down while births to older mothers (35-44) were still on the rise. Rates were stable for women over 45.

Birth rates among teenagers were down in 2002, continuing a decline that began in 1991. The birth rate fell to 43 births per 1,000 females 15-19 years of age in 2002, a 5-percent decline from 2001 and a 28-percent decline from 1990. The decline in the birth rate for younger teens, 15-17 years of age, is even more substantial, dropping 38 percent from 1990 to 2002 compared with a drop of 18 percent for teens 18-19 years.

“The reduction in teen pregnancy has clearly been one of the most important public health success stories of the past decade,” Secretary Thompson said. “The fact that this decline in teen births is continuing represents a significant accomplishment.”

More than one fourth of all children born in 2002 were delivered by cesarean; the total cesarean delivery rate of 26.1 percent was the highest level ever reported in the United States. The number of cesarean births to women with no previous cesarean birth jumped 7 percent and the rate of vaginal births after previous cesarean delivery dropped 23 percent. The cesarean delivery rate declined during the late 1980s through the mid-1990s but has been on the rise since 1996.

Among other significant findings:

  • In 2002, there were 4,019,280 births in the United States, down slightly from 2001 (4,025,933).
  • The percent of low birthweight babies (infants born weighing less than 2,500 grams) increased to 7.8 percent, up from 7.7 percent in 2001 and the highest level in more than 30 years. In addition, the percent of preterm births (infants born at less than 37 weeks of gestation) increased slightly over 2001, from 11.9 percent to 12 percent.
  • More than one-third of all births were to unmarried women. The birth rate for unmarried women was down slightly in 2002 to 43.6 per 1,000 unmarried women, reflecting the growing number of unmarried women in the population
  • Access to prenatal care continued a slow and steady increase. In 2002, 83.8 percent of women began receiving prenatal care in the first trimester of pregnancy, up from 83.4 percent in 2001 and 75.8 percent in 1990.

Data on births are based on information reported on birth certificates filed in State vital statistics offices and reported to CDC through the National Vital Statistics System. The report is available on CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics Web site.

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