The teen birthrate in the U.S. reached another record low last year, with signs that there may not be much room left for improvement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report published Thursday.
Teen birthrates fell 3% in 2022, the report found — a smaller decrease than in previous years. Since 2007, the teen birthrate has decreased about 8% per year. The smaller decline last year could indicate the nation is reaching a plateau thanks to years of progress, experts say.
“If there are a lot of states where the rates are already low, they bottom out. They can’t get any lower,” said the report’s lead author, Brady Hamilton, a statistician and demographer at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. Hamilton noted that the data in the new report are provisional and will be updated once the final numbers for 2022 are available.
Access to both contraception and comprehensive sex education has driven the sharp decrease in teen births, which are down nearly 80% from what they were in the early 1990s.
“Declining birthrates, especially among those in their teens and early 20s, is a good thing, because a lot of these pregnancies are unplanned,” said Karen Guzzo, the director of the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “This means people are having babies when they want to.”
For many people, that means having children later in life.
Birthrates in women ages 35 to 39 rose 2% in 2022, the report found. For women ages 40 to 44 — who have had near-continuous increases since 1985 — the birthrate rose 4%. Women ages 45 and up had an even greater increase in birthrate, at 12%, though the overall number of births to women that age remained low.
Waiting to have kids is a trend across all nations with low or moderate fertility rates, such as most of Europe, said Joshua Goldstein, the director of the Berkeley Population Center at the University of California, Berkeley.
That’s usually a good thing, but researchers are left with questions about why it is happening.
“It probably means that more women are having children when they want to have children. They’ve had chances to get better education, better chances to find the right partner, more chances to excel in their career,” Goldstein said.
The CDC report included data from more than 99% of birth records for babies born in the U.S. last year. It found that overall, the birthrate declined by a marginal amount, less than 1%, in 2022.
Aside from a small uptick in 2021, the number of babies born in the U.S. has been falling steadily since 2007. Since that year, birthrates have consistently been below the rate needed for a generation to replace itself.
Goldstein said he isn’t concerned that not enough people in the U.S. are becoming parents.
“It’s not the size of the next generation that matters. It’s the contribution that generation can make. The fact that women are able to have children at the ages they want and invest in those children is a positive thing,” he said.
The data also doesn’t yet reveal clues about how many people are choosing not to have children at all. Because people — both men and women — are waiting until later in life to have kids, it will take years of tracking population data to determine whether or not people are forgoing children altogether.
“This conversation is always framed as why are women choosing to not have kids, but young men are not having kids, either,” Guzzo said, noting that younger people often don’t feel ready to be parents, often because of finances.
“This is not a story about women being too career-driven. This is a story about what happens when young people try to transition in society and whether or not they have the resources to build another generation of people,” she said.
The number of women in their childbearing years is also declining in the U.S.
“The biggest thing is the age structure of the U.S. population is changing. The age structure is very different now compared with a decade or two decades ago. The number of women who are at reproductive age is shrinking,” said Feinian Chen, a professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University.
Where it differs is among immigrants. Younger immigrants moving to the U.S. and having children is one explanation for why birthrates are so much higher among Asian and Hispanic women compared to American Indian and Alaska Natives and Black and white Americans, Chen said.
Total births among American Indian or Alaska Native and white women declined by 3%, and the number of babies born to Black mothers declined 1%. Birthrates among Asian women increased 2%, and the number of babies born to Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander and Hispanic mothers increased 6%.
“Immigrants have been propping up our population rates for a long time,” Guzzo said.
Kaitlin Sullivan is a contributor for NBCNews.com who has worked with NBC News Investigations. She reports on health, science and the environment and is a graduate of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at City University of New York.