U.S. Birthrate Ticks Up 1 Percent, Halting a Steady Decline

The birthrate in the United States increased slightly last year, ending what had been a consistent decline since 2014, the federal government reported on Tuesday.

The country recorded 56.6 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 in 2021, an increase of 1 percent from the year before, when there was a sharp drop, according to provisional data released by the National Vital Statistics System, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There were 3,659,289 births in 2021, an increase of about 46,000, or 1 percent, from 2020.

Until last year, the birthrate had declined by an average of 2 percent every year since 2014.

The figures further muddled the question of how the pandemic has affected the birthrate. Early evidence from 2020, when births dropped 4 percent from the previous year, suggested women might have been delaying pregnancy.

The birthrate is just one piece of the nation’s larger population puzzle. With low birthrates, declining immigration and rising deaths, the country’s population has expanded slowly over the past decade. High birthrates can lead to a crunch of resources, as during the postwar baby boom years, while low birthrates can leave a country with too few people to take over jobs or care for its older population.

A complicated web of factors goes into a nation’s birthrate, including its economy — births tend to dip during periods of economic distress. Women are waiting longer to have babies, and more are choosing to not have them at all.

Since 2007, the birthrate in the United States had declined every year except 2014, when there was a modest increase before continuing the descent in 2015.

That decline matches with the beginning of the Great Recession, when millions of Americans lost their jobs and homes. (Despite frequent speculation, there typically isn’t a baby boom nine months after blizzards, blackouts and other one-off events that leave couples home alone and bored.)

In addition to the overall numbers, the newly released data showed that birthrates declined among women 15 to 24, including a 6 percent drop to record lows among women 15 to 19 years old, and an increase among women 25 to 49 years old.