Birth Rate at Lowest Level Since 1920

The U.S. birth rate has plunged, with the decline being led by immigrant women hit hard by the recession, according to a study released Thursday by the Pew Research Center.

The overall birth rate declined 8 percent between 2007 and 2010, with a decrease of 6 percent among U.S.-born women and 14 percent among foreign-born women.

The decline for Mexican immigrant women was more extreme, at 23 percent. The overall birth rate is now at its lowest since 1920, the earliest year with reliable records.

The decline could have far-reaching implications for U.S. economic and social policy. A continuing decline would challenge long-held assumptions that births to immigrants will help maintain the U.S. population and provide the taxpaying workforce needed to support the aging baby boomer generation.

The U.S. birth rate, 63.2 births per 1,000 women of child-bearing age, has fallen to just over half of what it was at its peak in 1957.

The falling birth rate mirrors what has happened during other recessions. A Pew study last year found that a decline in U.S. fertility rates was closely linked to hard times, particularly among Hispanics.

“The economy can have an impact on these long-term trends, and even the immigrants that we have been counting on to boost our population growth can dip in a poor economy,” said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, noting that Hispanic women, who led the decline, occupy one of the country’s most economically vulnerable groups.

A vast portion, 47 percent, of immigrants to the U.S. are Hispanic. In recent years, however, immigration from Mexico, the biggest contributing country, has dried up; for the first time since the Great Depression, the net migration from Mexico has been zero.

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