THE newly reported baby boom of 2007 is noteworthy almost more for the trends it produced than the record number of births it counted: 4,317,000. Behind the data, which show more births than any other year in U.S. history, are indications of interesting and worrisome cultural changes.
While the uptick in the number of births was slight in 2007, federal researchers found that teen pregnancies in the U.S. rose for the second straight year. By contrast, from 1991-2005, the rate of births to teenagers declined by one-third.
"The 14 years with teenage birth rates going down was one of the great success stories in public health, and its possible that it's coming to an end," lamented Sara Brown of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a private Washington group. Yet even at its low point in 2005, the U.S. still had the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, birth, and abortion of any industrialized nation.
The new report, by the National Center for Health Statistics, also found that births to unwed mothers of all ages reached an all-time high in 2007, making up 40 percent of all births. The group includes unmarried couples living together and single women, especially those in their 30s and 40s, choosing to have children despite their single status.
What would have been taboo in the socially transforming baby boom of the 1940s and 1950s, when a much smaller population of women were having nearly four children each on average, has become more acceptable in 2007 for a variety of reasons, say researchers. Still, they concede, whatever its societal ramifications, another reason for the baby boom record may have been a relatively good economy.
Experts say the economic factor cuts both ways. The lowest birth rates documented in the United States occurred during the Great Depression.