Virus Could Lower Already Low US Birth Rates

    08 June 2020

    From VOA Learning English, this is the Health & Lifestyle report.

    The number of births in the United States continued to fall last year. This led to the fewest U.S. newborns in 35 years, the Associated Press notes.

    The number of newborns has been falling for more than 10 years. And some experts say the coronavirus pandemic and its effect on the economy will result in even fewer births.

    FILE - This Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 file photo shows newborn babies in the nursery of a postpartum recovery center in upstate New York.
    FILE - This Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017 file photo shows newborn babies in the nursery of a postpartum recovery center in upstate New York.

    "This unpredictable environment, and concerns about the future, are going to make women think twice before having children," said Denise Jamieson. She is a doctor and head of the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the latest birth numbers on May 20. The report is based on a study of more than 99% of birth records from 2019. The findings are considered preliminary.

    The CDC found the number of births fell to about 3.7 million last year. This is about one percent less than the number in 2018.

    Birth rates continued to fall for teenagers and women in their 20s. However, for women in their early 40s, the report noted an increase in births.

    Experts say there are many reasons for falling birth rates. Among them are changing ideas about motherhood and family planning. Many women and couples now delay having children. Also, once they decide to start a family, they have fewer children.

    Experts also say there is good reason to think a weak economy will result in even lower birth rates. Aside from a one-year increase in 2014, U.S. births have been falling every year since 2007. That year a recession hit the United States. The drop in births continued even after the economy recovered.

    John Santelli is a professor of population and family health at Columbia University in New York. He says there are many reasons why economic conditions affect birth rates.

    Santelli noted that many jobs are low-paying and unpredictable. When you combine those kinds of jobs with the high cost of housing and other living expenses, people think carefully before having children.

    Brady Hamilton was the lead author of the CDC report. The effect of the pandemic, Hamilton said, will not become clear in hospital maternity wards until late this year or early next year.

    Santelli notes it is possible births will increase among some groups. Getting access to birth control and operations for ending pregnancies has become more difficult, he said. He added that couples stuck at home together may have more time for sex.

    However, other experts say it is more likely that birth rates will fall. Hans-Peter Kohler is a fertility researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. He said the idea that there will be a lot of "coronababies" is "widely perceived as a myth."

    Kohler said that the debate most experts are having is not about whether there will be a decrease in births, but whether it will be lasting.

    And that's the Health & Lifestyle report. I'm Anna Matteo.

    Mike Stobbe wrote this story for The Associated Press. Anna Matteo adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    pandemic medical noun : an occurrence in which a disease spreads very quickly and affects a large number of people over a wide area or throughout the world

    obstetricsmedical noun : a branch of medical science that deals with pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period

    gynecology medical noun : a branch of medicine that deals with the diseases and routine physical care of the reproductive system of women

    preliminary adj. coming before the main part of something

    teenager adj. between 13 and 19 years old

    couple – n. two persons married, engaged, or otherwise romantically paired

    expense – n. an amount of money that must be spent especially regularly to pay for something

    maternity ward – n. The department of a hospital that provides care for women during pregnancy and childbirth as well as for newborn infants.

    perceived adj. regarded in a specified way —used to say how something or someone is seen or thought of

    myth – n. an idea or story that is believed by many people but that is not true