Recent studies show that more babies were born in the United States in 2006 than in any year since 1961. Figures for 2006 indicate that 4.3 million children were born to mothers, creating a baby boomlet, the Associated Press reports.
Experts attribute the rise in births to a larger population and in particular, a growing number of Hispanics. The burgeoning Hispanic population doesn’t completely explain the upward swing because women from all races are having more children.
An Associated Press review of birth numbers reaching back to 1909 found the total number of U.S. births in 2006 was the highest since 1961, near the end of the baby boom. When the global picture is brought into focus, the United States has a higher fertility rate than every country in continental Europe, as well as Australia, Canada and Japan.
Some factors cited by fertility experts to explain the difference between the U.S. and other industrialized nations are: a decline in contraceptive use, a drop in access to abortion, poor education and poverty, but also better economic opportunities for American mothers returning to work.
Cultural reasons contribute to the U.S. difference as well. Hispanics as a group have higher fertility rates—about 40 percent higher than the U.S. overall. Regions of America also differ in their acceptance of children. New England’s low fertility rates are similar to those of Northern Europe. However, in the Midwest, the South, and some mountain states potential parents look at children more favorably than people in many other Westernized countries.
"Americans like children. We are the only people who respond to prosperity by saying, `Let's have another kid,'" said Nan Marie Astone an associate professor of population, family and reproductive health at Johns Hopkins University.
Ron Lesthaeghe, a Belgian demographer who is visiting professor at the University of Michigan, said the greater influence of religion, especially Evangelical Protestantism and Mormonism, also likely increased the fertility rate in some regions.
American women are also more likely to have babies out of wedlock than women in other countries, and more American couples tend not to abort an unwanted child.
Some researchers credit the high fertility rate among immigrants to their optimism about their future in the U.S., and also to the attitudes towards childbirth in their homelands. Fertility rates average 2.7 children per woman in Central America and 2.4 in South America.
However, the birth rate among immigrants can be even higher than in their native lands. Mexican-born women who live in the U.S., for example, have a fertility rate of 3.2 children, while the overall rate in Mexico is 2.4.
The overall spike in births could be the start of a trend, but demographers say it is too soon to know. This society-wide phenomenon caused the total number of births in 2006 to leap by 3%, the largest single-year increase since 1989, according to the CDC's preliminary data.
Instead of a smaller number of mothers having large families, Astone says that the recent upswing is due to many women having two children. In addition, the same report shows that the birthrate increased for women at all age levels and across racial lines. Whites, blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and Alaska Natives all showed increased fertility, while Asians remained at their previous levels.