USA birth rates declined last year for women in their teens, 20s, and - surprisingly - their 30s, leading to the fewest babies in 30 years, according to a government report released Thursday.
The birth rate in the U.S. has been steadily declining over recent years, but the drop between 2016 and 2017 was the greatest yet seen, with 92,000 fewer births.
That was surprising, because baby booms often parallel economic booms, and past year was a period of low unemployment and a growing economy.
While pundits continue to debate the causes of the long-term drop in fertility - which include economic worries among millennials, lifestyle preferences for increasingly well-educated young women, and a downward trend in Hispanic family size - the implications for social safety net programs that rely on younger workers funding benefits for older citizens are significant.
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The number of teen births also continued to decline, dropping another 7 percent a year ago.
Rates of preterm and low birth weight babies rose for the third straight year, possibly for the same reason. The trustees assume that the rate will rise as the economy strengthens, reaching 2.05 by 2023, then dropping slightly to 2.0 by 2027.
Birth rates for teens continued to nosedive, as they have since the early 1990s. That's a two percent drop from 2016.
Rates for women in their 20s continued to hit record lows.
Birthrates fell by 4 percent both for women from 20 to 24 years old and for women of ages 25 to 29. The CDC's report found the birth rate decreased for women between the ages of 15 and 39, but increased for women aged 40 to 44. The drop included a 2 percent fall among women in their early 30s, a group that still maintained the highest birthrate of any age group, at 100.3 births per 1,000 women.
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"It's hard to say yet whether it marks a fundamental change or it's just a blip", said Hans-Peter Kohler, a University of Pennsylvania demographer who studies birth trends.
The total fertility rate in the U.S.in 2017 was once again below the level at which a generation can replace itself. The replacement rate is 2,100 births per 1,000 women.
A decade ago, the estimated rate was 2.1 kids per USA woman.
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox. The provisional estimate shows 3.85 million births in 2017, the lowest tally since 1987.
This article was reported by The Associated Press.
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