Where have all the babies gone?

Health

Birth rate plummeting faster than predicted

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In a year of pandemic, it would seem logical some prospective parents would want to hold off until things get back to normal, but the significant drop-off in babies being born in Oregon is nothing new.

“It’s something we’ve been following over a long period of time and it’s accelerating,” said Charles Rynerson, of the Population Research Center at Portland State University. “It’s fallen below what we expected.”               

Oregon’s dramatic shift to women having fewer babies comes at the same time the population has increased steadily. Rynerson points to preliminary data from the Oregon Health Authority that indicate in 2020, there were fewer than 40,000 births in Oregon for the first time since 1988, when there were 1.5 million fewer people in Oregon.

“[There are] as many reasons as there are people,” he said. “And it may differ by age group. We’ve seen the biggest declines among the youngest adults, and in fact, teenage birth rates are the lowest they’ve ever been.”

Rynerson explains fewer teenagers are sexually active now, and have better access to quality contraception. He said through the internet, social media, and TV shows depicting life as a teen mom, young women can see how difficult it can be to raise a child. 

The number of babies born in Oregon peaked in 2007 at 49,373.  In 2017, the number was down to 43,630. Preliminary data for 2020 shows 39,774 babies born in Oregon. In Washington State, births peaked in 2008 at 90,270. Data for 2020 is not available yet, but in 2019 births had fallen to 84,918.               

The majority of women giving birth in Oregon now are 30 and over. In Multnomah and Washington counties, over 60% of births are women, age 30 and over.

“That increase in birth rates to women 30 and over, it kept the number of births from going into a free fall,” said Rynerson. “But in the last few years, there’s even been a decline in birth rates for women in their early thirties.”   

The only group of women having more babies are those in their late thirties.               

“For the first time ever in recorded history in Oregon, preliminary data indicate that there were likely more deaths than births in Oregon in 2020,” said Rynerson. At the current birth rate, Oregon’s population would be shrinking if it were not for so many people moving into the state.

A shrinking population can have positive effects on things like the environment, but it can also have negative affects on the economy. Rynerson said it is too soon to know the toll the pandemic has taken on the birth rate. December 2020 showed 7% fewer births than December of 2019 in Oregon.

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