U.S. births fell for the fourth year in a row, the government reported Wednesday, with experts calling it more proof that the weak economy has continued to dampen enthusiasm for having children.
But there may be a silver lining: The decline in 2011 was just 1 percent -- not as sharp a fall-off as the 2 to 3 percent drop seen in other recent years.
"It may be that the effect of the recession is slowly coming to an end," said Carl Haub, a senior demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington, D.C.-based research organization.
Most striking in the new report were steep declines in Hispanic birth rates and a new low in teen births. Hispanics have been disproportionately affected
Falling births is a relatively new phenomenon in this country. Births had been on the rise since the late 1990s and hit an all-time high of more than 4.3 million in 2007.
But fewer than 4 million births were counted last year, according to the new report. That's about 360,000 fewer kids born than in 2007 -- equivalent to the population of Miami proper. It's also the lowest number of births since 1998.
Among the people who study this sort of thing, the flagging economy has been seen as the primary explanation. The theory is that many women or couples who are out of work, underemployed or have other money problems feel they can't afford to start a family or add to it.
The economy officially was in a recession from December 2007 until June 2009. But well into 2011, polls show most Americans remained gloomy, citing anemic hiring, a depressed housing market and other factors.
The report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a first glimpse at 2011 birth certificate data from state health departments. More analysis comes later but officials don't expect the numbers to change much.