Latest Birth Statistics for the Nation Released

For Release: June 30, 1998

Contact: NCHS Press Office (301) 458-4800,

Report of Final Natality Statistics, 1996. Vol. 46, No. 11 supplement . 100 pp. (PHS) 98-1120 pdf icon[PDF – 1.1 MB]

Birth Data Web Page

The latest birth statistics for the United States show a continued decline in smoking during pregnancy, an improvement in prenatal care, and a drop in the birth rate for unmarried women, according to a new report released today by the Department of Health and Human Services. The final 1996 birth statistics from HHS’ National Center for Health Statistics document improvements in some key indicators of maternal and infant health.

Cigarette smoking during pregnancy continued to decline in 1996, to 13.6 percent of women giving birth that year. Tobacco use has fallen steadily since 1989, when about 20 percent of pregnant women smoked.

“We’re getting the word out to women that one of the best things they can do for their baby is to never smoke, or to quit if they do smoke,” said HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala. Women who smoke during pregnancy are almost twice as likely to have a low birthweight infant and low birthweight is a leading cause of infant mortality or disability.

However, for young teenage mothers–those under 18–smoking actually increased 5 percent between 1995 and 1996, although rates are still lower than a few years ago. “Just like all teenagers, teenage moms need special efforts to help them stay away from tobacco and its legacy of disease and death,” Secretary Shalala said.

The rates of timely prenatal care have improved for women in all race and ethnic groups in the 1990’s. The proportion of women who receive prenatal care in the first trimester climbed to 81.9 percent in 1996, and it is during these visits that women are often warned against smoking. Although early care has also improved for teens, they are less likely than older women to receive care beginning in the first trimester and thus could miss these vital warnings.

The birth rate for unmarried women in 1996 was 1 percent lower than in 1995 and 4 percent lower than the highest level, recorded in 1994. The rate for non-Hispanic white women increased slightly, but the rate for Hispanic and black women each declined 2 percent. The rate for black women reaching the lowest rate since 1969, when data were first available specifically for black women. The rate for black women has now dropped 18 percent since 1989. The actual number of unmarried births in 1996 rose slightly to 1,260,306, accounting for 32.4 percent of all births.

The report also documents a dramatic increase in multiple births to an unprecedented high, due in part to the increased use of fertility enhancing therapies and to the shift in delayed childbearing. The number of live births in triplet, quadruplet, quintuplet and other higher-order multiple deliveries rose 19 percent in a single year between 1995 and 1996 and was up 344 percent just since 1980. In 1980, there were just over 1,300 higher-order multiple births compared with an all-time high of 5,939 in 1996. Over that time, the rate jumped from 37.0 births per 100,000 women to 152.6 per 100,000. The rate of twin births has increased but less dramatically, up 4 percent in 1996 from the previous year and 37 percent from 1980.

The rise in multiple births has had a direct impact on low birthweight and preterm infants. Both of these measures have increased during the 1990’s, due at least in part, to the rise in multiple births, which are at greater risk of being born at low birthweight and prior to full term.

Overall, births in the United States declined slightly in 1996 to 3,891,494, the smallest number recorded since 1987. The birth rate is at the lowest level reported in two decades. The teenage birth rate continued to decline while the birth rates for women in the peak childbearing years increased slightly. The pace of increase for births to women in their 30’s and 40’s has slowed considerably in recent years.

“Report of Final Natality Statistics, 1996,” by Stephanie Ventura, Joyce Martin, Sally Curtin, and T. J. Mathews is available from the National Center for Health Statistics and can be viewed and downloaded from the NCHS home page. NCHS is a part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, within HHS.


Page last reviewed: November 17, 2009