U.S. Birth Rate Drops as Economy Struggles

Joanna and Jack Mazewski (Photo courtesy of the Mazewski Family.)

The U.S. birth rate continued its decline in 2011, according to a preliminary report from the Centers for Disease Control, and researchers link a part of the downturn in births to the economy.

Last year, the number of births hit a record low after declining 1 percent from 2010 to 3,953,593. It is the fourth year straight year of decline in total fertility rate. The baby boom that was once a part of U.S. culture has fizzled as the general fertility rate fell to a historic low in 2011, measured at just 63.2 births per 1,000 women age 15-44 years old. That figure peaked in the mid-1950s at about 120 births per 1,000 women in that age group.

"The economy is definitely having some effect on fertility and we know that from previous decades during the Great Depression we saw a pretty significant drop in fertility and then again in the 1970's," Mark Mather, a demographer for Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit population research organization, told ABC News. "We weren't too surprised to see a decline in fertility during this most recent economic downturn," he continued. "If you look at European countries you can also see impact of high unemployment and when uncertainty about jobs, you tend to see fertility drop."

One family decided to take precautionary steps to avoid increasing their family size because of the high cost of raising children. Shortly after the birth of their second child, Joanna and Jack Mazewski decided the best option to maintain their family of four would be a vasectomy.

"The cost of raising a child these days is just too expensive for us to consider having a larger family," wrote Joanna Mazewski, a blogger for Babble, a parenting website. "I'm not just talking diapers here: education, extra-curricular activities, insurance, etc., are all factors we considered before ultimately deciding on his surgery."

"The cost of groceries is outrageous these days and I sometimes find myself spending up to $200 on food for my family of four," said Mazewski, who is based in Coconut Creek, Fla. "It's really difficult to try and eat healthy and organic when prices are so high. With a third child, it would be difficult to continue feeding my family quality, healthy meals with the sky rocketing prices on simple things such as milk, yogurt, and bread."

The trend of opting for more children began before the recession but may have been exacerbated by the downturn.

According to the preliminary report from the CDC, teens, Hispanic, and African American saw birth rates decline in 2011. The birth rate for teenagers between the ages of 15-19 declined by 8 percent last year. The birth rate for non-Hispanic black and Hispanic black women was the lowest ever.

The drop in teen birth rates may not be due to the economy, said one researcher.

"It could be changes in contraception and social norm," said Mather. The recession may have played a role in Hispanics experiencing the steepest drop in fertility, he added.

"I think the recession is playing a role there -especially since Latino men were hit very hard by the recession and the loss of jobs."