US birth rate lowest since 1979 as pandemic-led stress rises

A woman wearing a protective face mask pushes a baby stroller amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York

By Bhargav Acharya

(Reuters) -Americans had the lowest number of babies in more than four decades last year, mirroring a slump in European birth rates, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced more people to take care of sick family members or deal with job losses.

Birth rate in the United States fell 4% in 2020 to about 3.6 million babies, its sixth straight annual decline and the lowest since 1979, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC did not attribute the overall decline to the pandemic, but experts have predicted that pandemic-led reasons including anxiety will hit the country's birth rate.

"The recent decline in birth rates reflects both a longer-term downward trend in birth rates that was apparent prior to the pandemic and pandemic-related reduction," Lorna Thorpe, director of epidemiology at the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone, said.

In general, U.S. fertility rates have dropped over the years as women marry late and delay motherhood especially in years when the economy has slowed.

Older data from Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit statistics collector, showed the U.S. birth rate reached an all-time low in 1936 following the 1929 stock market crash.

It once again took a hit through the 1970s in the wake of big social changes including the landmark Roe v. Wade,abortion%20without%20excessive%20government%20restriction legal case on abortion.

Many European countries have also seen a decline in births, and demographics experts have forecast a baby bust across the continent this year.

In Italy, nine months after the country went into Europe's first lockdown. births plunged 22% in December. Blaming lower birth rates, big corporations including Reckitt, Nestle and Danone have posted a drop in sales of baby formula.

The CDC said fertility rate in the United States, which measures the number of births per 1,000 women aged between 15 and 44, declined by 4% in 2020.

This provisional data is based on 99.87% of all birth records registered and processed last year by the National Center for Health Statistics as of Feb. 11.

(Reporting by Bhargav Acharya in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Siddharth Cavale and Vishwadha Chander; Editing by Sayantani Ghosh, Anil D'Silva and Arun Koyyur)