July 17, 2008— -- The National Center for Health Statistics — just reported a population milestone. In 2007, a record number of 4,315,000 babies were born in the United States. With more babies born last year than any other year in U.S. history, nearly doubling the number born century ago, signs point to a potential start of a new American baby boom.
"It's a record, and it's a particularly interesting record because the year it beats is 1957, which was the height of the baby boom," said Robert Engelman, vice president for programs at the Worldwatch Institute based in Washington, D.C, and author of "More: Population, Nature and What Women Want."
"This is the first year that we've actually beat the baby boom," he said.
So do signs point to a potential start of a new American baby boom?
Today's population trends are remarkable when you stop to think of the conditions that led to the Baby Boom. Historians attribute the 1950s-era boom to the carefree prosperity of those post-war years, which today seem like a distant memory.
So with gas prices soaring, housing prices faltering and the economy in a tailspin, America's propensity to procreate now may seem odd.
It's not quite another Baby Boom.
"In the '50s, the average woman was having close to four children. Now she's having close to two," Engelman said.
The overall population is nearly double what it was in the '50s, which means even though parents are having fewer children, the numbers add up.
There's been an uptick in the number of women having children later in their lives, whether as a career choice or with the help of technology. Among women in their 40s, the birth rate has doubled since the 1990s and quadrupled since the 1980s.
Childbirth among unmarried women is at record-high levels, too.
But the biggest factor contributing to the current baby boom, demographers say, is immigration. The birth rate is rising fastest among Hispanic immigrants in particular, far outpacing the 2.1 average births per woman.
One potential benefit of more kids born today is that they enter the labor force and become future taxpayers. In addition, they will help fulfill the currently aging baby boomers' demands on Social Security.
"These are going to be future wage-earners and they're going to be supporting the Social Security system for some decades to come," Engelman said.
However, there is a downside to the tremendous rate of population growth.
One is more competition. All those babies are going to be competing for the same opportunities.
"All of these kids are going to be applying for the same financial aid," said Mark Mather, demographer from the Population Reference Bureau. "They're all going to be trying to get into the same state schools someday. So you know, wait 15 or 20 years and that's going to be an issue too."
Most of the kids will want to drive someday. And in the meantime, bigger families mean bigger cars and minivans to chauffer them around, rather than small, energy-efficient Priuses.
That means there is an environmental impact to take into consideration.
"We already have scarce resources in a lot of areas," said Mather. "It's going to affect, potentially, our water supply, the quality of our air. Places that are already crowded are probably going to get more crowded in the future."
Gas prices, food prices and climate change are all factors when looking at a demographic trend of this magnitude.
Miriam Vourgourkakis gave birth to a daughter today in a Los Angeles hospital. She and her husband Yanni already have a son who is a year and a half old.
"When I told him we're having a girl, he said, 'Check please,'" Vourgourkakis said, laughing.
Her husband agreed that after two children, they were done.
Most Americans stop at two, but even at that rate, the numbers add up fast. And while experts say its too soon to tell if it's a bona fide baby boom, the numbers speak for themselves.
ABC News' Lauren Sher contributed to this report.