The baby boom of 2007 is noteworthy almost more for the trends it produced than the record 4,317,000 births it counted. Behind the data, which show the most births of any year in U.S. history, are signs of worrisome cultural changes.
Federal researchers found, for instance, that teen pregnancies rose for the second straight year. By contrast, from 1991 to 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. Yet even at its low point in 2005, the United States still had the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, birth and abortion of any industrialized nation.
The report by the National Center for Health Statistics also found that births to unwed mothers of all ages reached a new high in 2007, making up 40 percent of all births. The group includes unmarried couples 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 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, say researchers. Still, they concede, whatever its societal ramifications, another reason for the recent baby boom may have been a relatively good economy.
But economics has its down side, too. The lowest birth rates documented in the United States occurred during the Great Depression.