By Patrick B. Craine

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 7, 2010 ( – U.S. births dropped 2% in 2008, bringing the country's birth rate below replacement level, new government statistics released Tuesday reveal.

The U.S. National Vital Statistics Report showed that the U.S. birth rate dropped in 2008 to 2.08 births per woman, below the 2.1 level needed to replace the population.  The report indicates that the birth rate had surpassed replacement level for 2006 and 2007, after having been below replacement since 1972.

The drop in 2008 follows a period of growth, with fertility in 2007 reaching its highest point in two decades.  The country saw 4.2 million births, down from 4.3 million the year before.

The decline included a 2% drop in births among teenage girls, which had been on the rise the two previous years, with 41.5 births per 1,000 teens aged 15 to 19.

The birth rate for women in their twenties, the main childbearing years, fell 2 to 3 percent, but the rate for women aged 40-44 increased 4% to 9.9 births per 1,000 women, the highest since 1967.

While the reasons for the decline are unclear, the Washington Post suggests that the drop is linked to the economic recession.  They cite a study from the Pew Research Center indicating that the birthrate fell more in states that were more heavily affected by the recession, and vice versa.  They also pointed out an October Pew survey that found 14% of Americans aged 18 to 34 and 8% aged 35 to 44 had chosen to postpone birth due to the recession.

See the National Vital Statistics Report here.

See related coverage:

Birth Rates Continue to Plunge: US Census Bureau