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The Economic Impact of the Recession on Birth Trends

by Kurt Metzger, Director

According to new preliminary numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics, the U.S. birth rate dipped in 2011 to the lowest ever recorded, led by a plunge in births to immigrant women since the onset of the Great Recession.

The overall U.S. birth rate, which is the annual number of births per 1,000 women in the prime childbearing ages of 15 to 44, declined 8% from 2007 to 2010. The birth rate for U.S.-born women decreased 6% during these years, but the birth rate for foreign-born women plunged 14%—more than it had declined over the entire 1990-2007 period. The birth rate for Mexican immigrant women fell even more, by 23%.

The overall birth rate in 2011 was 63.2 per 1,000 women of childbearing age. That rate is the lowest since at least 1920, the earliest year for which there are reliable numbers. The overall U.S. birth rate peaked most recently in the Baby Boom years, reaching 122.7 in 1957, nearly double today’s rate. The birth rate sagged through the mid-1970s but stabilized at 65-70 births per 1,000 women for most years after that before falling again after 2007, the beginning of the Great Recession.

In addition to the birth rate decline, the number of U.S. births, which had been rising since 2002, fell abruptly after 2007—a decrease also led by immigrant women. From 2007 to 2010, the overall number of births declined 7%, pulled down by a 13% drop in births to immigrants and a relatively modest 5% decline in births to U.S.-born women.

Preliminary numbers for Michigan indicate a stable birth rate of 59.9 over the last three years, in spite of another year of decrease in the number of births [1].  Unlike the national trend, Michigan births began to decrease after 2000 – the year after which Michigan’s Recession is thought to have begun [2].  The number of births decreased by 11.1 percent between 1990 and 2000, and by 16.2 percent between 2000 and 2011. Unlike national trends, Michigan’s birth rate, while dropping since 2000, has not experienced such a large and sudden decrease – dropping just 3 percent between 2007 and 2010.

While 2011 preliminary data are not available below the state level, the 2000 – 2010 trend for Michigan is reflected to a greater or lesser extent across the state.  Looking at Southeast Michigan, we see the following decreases in birth numbers between 2000 and 2010:

Livingston County: -17.3%
Macomb County: -11.8%
Monroe County: -11.0%
Oakland County: -19.4%
St. Clair County: -25.5%
Washtenaw County: -7.6%
Wayne County: -22.3%

Detroit city: -31.0%
Out-Wayne: -13.2%

Figure 1. Michigan Births, 1990 - 2011

While Michigan’s economic news has become much more positive, it will be interesting to see if birth numbers will begin to turn around.  Any significant increase will require both the birth rate to increase and the state to attract and retain women between 15 and 44 years of age.  Based on birth rates with this larger cohort, it is growth in the 20s and 30s that is most critical.


[1] Births have been decreasing in Michigan since 1990.

[2] 2000 marked a one-year increase in both births and birth rate.  2001 numbers mirrored those of 1999.

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