The provisional data consisted of over 99 percent of birth records in the U.S. and showed 3.788 million births in 2018, the lowest since 1986. 2018 marked the fourth year in a row that the number of total births has decreased.
Record low birth rates for women in their 20’s and under were significant factors. Births to teenagers in particular dropped 8 percent to 179,607.
Women in the late 30’s to early 40’s age range were the only cohort that displayed slight increases in birth rates last year. The overall fertility rate of 1.7 births per woman marked a 2 percent drop, suggesting that the current population is not reproducing enough to replace itself.
The findings are particularly unusual given the strong economic status in the U.S. currently. Experts are unsure whether the continued trend of decreasing birth rates indicates that women are merely delaying motherhood or avoiding it altogether.
“I keep expecting to see the birth rates go up and then they don’t,” said University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy professor Kenneth M. Johnson.
The birth rate for women ages 15 to 44 dropped to a record 59 births per 1,000 women. Every racial group experienced declining birth rates except for Pacific Islanders and native Hawaiians, who saw little change from last year.