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Babies? Not in this economy. US birth rates plummet for fourth year

Birthrates have been declining for the past four years, according to a government report on Wednesday. It's a new phenomenon for a country with rising populations rates since the 1990s.

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Birth rates in the US are on the decline. Water baby dolls, November 20, 2008, St. Louis, MO.

Photo: Business Wire/Wild Planet Entertainment, Inc.

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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 the decline in 2011 was just 1 percent — not as sharp a fall-off as the 2 to 3 percent drop seen in 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 research organization.

Most striking were steep declines in Hispanic birth rates and a new low in teen births. Hispanics have been disproportionately affected by the poor economy, experts say, and teen birth rates have been falling for 20 years.

Falling births is a relatively new phenomenon in the U.S. 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 — the lowest number since 1998.

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.

Early data for 2012 is not yet available, and it's too soon to guess whether the birth decline will change, said the CDC's Stephanie Ventura, one of the study's authors.

Some highlights:

—The birth rate for single women fell for the third straight year, dropping by 3 percent from 2010 to 2011. The birth rate for married women rose 1 percent. In most cases, married women are older and more financially secure.

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