Welcome To The Baby-Cession: Birth Rates Decline In Flagging EconomyS

According to a Centers for Disease Control report, the US birth rate fell in 2008, among teens as well as older women. One possible cause of our reduced babymaking: the recession.

The CDC found that births dropped off 2% in 2008, which, as the AP points out, was "the first full year of the recession." The drop was the first of the decade, and affected teenagers and women in their twenties and thirties. Only women in their 40s showed an increase in procreation, possibly because, as James Trussell of the Office of Population Research at Princeton delicately puts it, "you get to the point where the biological clock starts ticking and people realize they have to do it."

But while the recession isn't delaying the babymaking of these clock-watchers, it's interesting that it's affecting teens. As the Washington Post's Rob Stein points out, teen birth rates had been rising between 2005 and 2007. In 2008, they fell the most among 18-19-year-olds (4%), but also declined by 2% among 15-17-year-olds. We often think of teen pregnancy as being almost wholly accidental, so it's interesting to see it influenced by some of the economic factors that also influence women in their 20s and 30s. Are teens consciously delaying pregnancy because of financial concerns? Or is there something about a recession that subconsciously makes them less likely to get knocked up?

Whatever the cause of the decline, both supporters and opponents of abstinence education are using it as an opportunity to discuss their agendas, and to advocate that President Obama include them in his upcoming teen pregnancy prevention program. Says Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association,

The downward trend is encouraging and gives us reason to believe that the 2006-07 slight uptick in teen births may have been a hiccup, rather than the start of a troubling new trend. It is a shame that abstinence education opponents too early use any statistics to denigrate an approach that offers teens the best skills to avoid all the consequences of sex, including teen pregnancy.

James Wagoner of Advocates for Youth counters,

We don't yet know whether the new data for 2008 showing a decline constitutes a blip or a trend. What we do know is that the federal government is about to launch one of the largest teen pregnancy prevention efforts in decades, and if we are to ensure that this decline continues, it is critical that federal funds go only to the programs that work.

Whether or not the decline in teen birth rates continues, all women still deserve the full range of reproductive education and choices. Some of these choices may put off our procreation for a while, but as Jessica pointed out yesterday, women's control over our own fertility "has allowed us to determine our priorities regardless of biology." But too many women still struggle to gain this self-determination, either because of poor contraceptive access, inadequate healthcare, or abusive partners who try to force them into pregnancy or abortion. Insofar as the decline in birth rates is political all, it should remind us that this "rate" is made up of individual women, each of whom deserves the right to decide for herself when to have sex, and whether to get or stay pregnant.

U.S. Birthrate Drops 2 Percent In 2008 [Washington Post]
Drop In Birth Rate In 2008 May Be Tied To Recession [AP, via NYT]
Partners' Control Of Reproductive Options May Lead To Abortions And Unwanted Births [Guttmacher Institute]