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updated 8/27/2010 7:55:21 PM ET 2010-08-27T23:55:21

The U.S. birth rate has dropped for the second year in a row, and experts think the wrenching recession led many people to put off having children. The 2009 birth rate also set a record: lowest in a century.

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Births fell 2.7 percent last year even as the population grew, numbers released Friday by the National Center for Health Statistics show.

"It's a good-sized decline for one year. Every month is showing a decline from the year before," said Stephanie Ventura, the demographer who oversaw the report.

The birth rate, which takes into account changes in the population, fell to 13.5 births for every 1,000 people last year. That's down from 14.3 in 2007 and way down from 30 in 1909, when it was common for people to have big families.

"It doesn't matter how you look at it — fertility has declined," Ventura said.

The situation is a striking turnabout from 2007, when more babies were born in the United States than any other year in the nation's history. The recession began that fall, dragging stocks, jobs and births down.

"There is quite possibly a connection between the decline in births and the economic downturn," says the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which includes the health statistics center. "More details on the demographics of mothers who gave birth in 2009 are needed to more strongly make this connection."

Another possible factor in the drop: a decline in immigration to the United States.

The downward trend invites worrisome comparisons to Japan and its lost decade of choked growth in the 1990s and very low birth rates. Births in Japan fell 2 percent in 2009 after a slight rise in 2008, its government has said.

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Not so in Britain, where the population took its biggest jump in almost half a century last year and the fertility rate is at its highest level since 1973. France's birth rate also has been rising; Germany's birth rate is lower but rising as well.

The new U.S. report is a rough count of births from states. It estimates there were 4,136,000 births in 2009, down from 4,251,095 in 2008 and more than 4.3 million in 2007.

The report does not give details on trends in different age groups. That will come next spring and will give a clearer picture who is and is not having children, Ventura said.

Last spring's report, on births in 2008, showed an overall drop but a surprising rise in births to women over 40, who may have felt they were running out of time to have children and didn't want to delay despite the bad economy.

Heather Atherton is nearing that mark. The Sacramento, Calif., mom, who turns 36 next month, started a home-based public relations business after having a baby girl in 2003. She and her husband upgraded to a larger home in 2005 and planned on having a second child not long afterward. Then the recession hit, drying up her husband's sales commissions and leaving them owing more on their home than it is worth. A second child seemed too risky financially.

"However, we just recently decided that it's time to stop waiting and just go for it early next year and let the chips fall where they may," she said. "We can't allow the recession to dictate the size of our family. We just need to move forward with our lives."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Slow economic recovery leads to lower birthrate

  1. Transcript of: Slow economic recovery leads to lower birthrate

    WILLIAMS: Good evening. And this is it. We are back in the Lower Ninth Ward tonight, the one iconic post- Katrina New Orleans neighborhood people have heard about all over the world . The old neighborhood was all still here in place five years ago tonight. That's because Katrina was still offshore in the gulf, bearing down, but still at least two days out. The flood wall behind us is new; and when the old one failed, this neighborhood got blown to pieces, washed away. It became, as we said, an icon for all the damage and the suffering. We'll see how the Lower Ninth Ward is faring in just a moment.

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor (New Orleans): But we want to begin tonight instead with the economy, because we got more evidence today that it slowed to an absolute crawl this spring. Gross domestic product, the broadest measure there is of economic growth , was revised sharply lower for the three months that ended in June to a very weak 1.6 percent. And look at this stat just out from the government today. The birth rate in this country fell to its lowest level in 100 years last year as the bad economy kept people from adding to or starting up a family.

    Source: Commerce Department U.S. Birth Rate

    2.6% Lowest in 100 Years

    WILLIAMS: NBC 's John Yang is going to start us off tonight from Chicago . John , good evening.

    JOHN YANG reporting: Good evening, Brian . It was a day of startling numbers, numbers on the economy and on the different ways it's affecting all of our lives. Amid the towering peaks of Wyoming at an annual Fed conference, a sobering assessment from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke . Economic growth is too slow and unemployment is too high. But he said the Fed is ready to act to keep the nation from slipping back into recession.

    STEVE LIESMAN reporting: The concern right now for the Fed is that the labor market has been disappointing, and that means income is not going to be as high as expected. Lower incomes, of course, translates into lower spending.

    YANG: Consumer spending is key for small businessmen like Chuck Schwartz . He owns two party supply stores where sales continue on a downward slope.

    Mr. CHUCK SCHWARTZ (Card and Party Giant Owner): We've been in a downturn since 2008 . I don't know how much longer we can go through that. We've cut our expenses so that I think we can survive.

    YANG: So far this year, Schwartz has closed one store, laid off five workers, and cut both the pay and hours of the 25 employees who remain, including operations manager Jan Cook . She says it's made her future feel less secure.

    Ms. JAN COOK: I try not to worry, but, yes, of course it does. I worry. I'm getting older.

    YANG: Experts say young families' worries about the future are contributing to a steep decline in the birth rate . Today the government said in 2009 it was the lowest in a century.

    Ms. D'VERA COHN (Pew Research Center): There's a long line of research that economic conditions and birth rates are linked. The Great Depression had low birth rates .

    YANG: Stephanie Scott and her husband say they'd love to start a family, but just don't think they can do it now financially.

    Ms. STEPHANIE SCOTT: We stopped making plans. And when the time is right and we feel we have enough cushion and we have enough savings, then we'll take the next step.

    YANG: Analysts say another reason for the declining birth rate is low immigration, which is also due to the slow economy. Brian :

    WILLIAMS: John Yang starting us off in Chicago tonight . John , thanks.

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