The U.S. Baby Boom: Blame Bristol! Or Maybe Angelina

Abortion rates are at their lowest in decades, while the birth rate is up. Way up: In 2007 more babies were born in the U.S. than ever before, topping even the boom of the 50s.

The stats on the 2007 birth rate tell of both good and bad news. Somewhat good: the U.S. population is more than replacing itself. Bad: teen pregnancies are also on the rise, for the second year in a row.

Fertility researcher S. Philip Morgan claims that cultural acceptance of unwed mothers is partially to blame, as is the high profile case of Bristol Palin. "She's the poster child for what you do when you get pregnant now," Morgan said. He believes that Bristol (and the media acceptance of girls like her) may be to blame for both the rise in teen pregnancies and the fall in abortion rates.

Optimists believe that abortions are down because of better contraception, while pessimists believe that more teens are having babies because they don't know how to use birth control. This viewpoint is backed up by studies that show an overall decrease in availability of abortions - it is becoming increasingly true that if a young girl gets pregnant, she stays pregnant ("Just like Bristol," as Morgan might say).

Dr. Carol Hogue has a somewhat similar take on the phenomenon. She suggests that the abnormally high birth rate in 2007 was spurred a relatively good economy coupled with "cultural trends that promoted childbirth." So you mean our cultural obsession with celebrity babies (and all those infuriating baby watch articles and "baby bump" features) are finally taking their toll? Who'da thunk it!

However, they would like to remind us that this is only "the tiniest of baby booms":

CDC officials noted that despite the record number of births, this is nothing like what occurred in the 1950s, when a much smaller population of women were having nearly four children each, on average. That baby boom quickly transformed society, affecting everything from school construction to consumer culture.

Today, U.S. women are averaging 2.1 children each. That's the highest level it's been since the early 1970s, but is a relatively small increase from the rate it had hovered at for more than 10 years and is hardly transforming.

This is why experts are calling the 2007 surge of newborns a "baby boomlet," rather than a full-on boom. Whatever sickeningly cutesy name we call it, the fact remains that more babies are having babies, less women are able to choose abortion as an option, and doctors are blaming a single famous teen mom for a rash of young births that happened two years ago. And that's bad news all around.

Number Of U.S. Births Breaks Record [CBS News]