U.S. health officials say the nation's birth rate in 2020 fell to its lowest level in more than 40 years.
The rate fell 4 percent in 2020 to about 3.6 million babies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a new report. That is the lowest number of U.S. births since 1979.
The CDC said it was the sixth year in a row that the U.S. saw a decrease in births after the last increase in 2014. The rate has dropped an average of 2 percent per year since 2015.
The birth rate dropped for women in every major race and ethnicity, and in nearly every age group.
The CDC said the U.S. fertility rate -- which measures the number of births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 -- declined by 4 percent in 2020.
U.S. births have been decreasing in younger women for many years, as many mothers started families later and had smaller families. Birth rates for women in their late 30s and in their 40s have slowly been increasing. But last year was different.
The CDC's Brady Hamilton was the lead writer of the report. He said one of the most surprising results was the decrease in births even for older mothers.
The CDC report was based on an examination of more than 99 percent of official birth records issued last year. The Associated Press found that births had fallen during the coronavirus pandemic by looking at 2020 data from 25 states.
Experts say the pandemic was one likely cause of the drop in U.S. birth rates. Fears about COVID-19 and its effects on the economy may have caused many couples to rethink having a child.
Many of the 2020 pregnancies, however, began well before the coronavirus pandemic. Hamilton said CDC researchers are working on a second report to explain the decrease.
Lorna Thorpe is the director of epidemiology at the Department of Population Health at New York University's Langone Hospital. She told Reuters that the latest birth rate drop was in keeping with the downward trend seen in recent years. But she added that the change in 2020 was also linked to "pandemic-related reductions."
Experts say the current generation in America is getting further away from having enough children to replace itself.
Many European countries have also been experiencing birth rate drops and population experts have predicted major decreases in babies born across the continent this year.
In Italy, births fell 22 percent in December 2020, nine months after the country went into Europe's first lockdown restrictions. Some large corporations, including Reckitt, Nestle and Danone, say lower birth rates also led to big sales drops in baby formula.
I'm Dan Friedell.