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American Women Are Having Fewer Kids—and Having Them Later in Life, Report Says

3 minute read

American women are having fewer children than in years past, and having them later in life, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

The U.S.’ total fertility rate — or the estimated number of lifetime births expected from a group of 1,000 women — hit its most recent peak in 2007, the report says. But in the decade following, fertility rates fell, while the average age of first-time mothers rose, according to the data. These trends are happening all over the U.S., but especially in cities — and gulfs between urban and rural areas are widening.

In large metro counties, total fertility rates fell by 18% between 2007 and 2017, from 2,096 to 1,712, while average first-time maternal age rose from nearly 26 to almost 28. In smaller metro counties, fertility rates fell by 16%, from 2,110 to 1,778, and first-time maternal age rose from around 24 to almost 26. And in rural counties, fertility rates fell by 12%, from around 2,206 to 1,950, and first-time maternal age rose from just over 23 to 24.5.

Women in rural areas have traditionally had more children than women in cities, and begun having them younger. But the report shows that the differences are becoming more pronounced over time. In 2007, fertility rates in rural counties were just 5% higher than in metro areas of all sizes; by 2017, they were 10% higher than in small and medium cities, and 14% higher than in large cities.

Fertility rates fell among white, black and Hispanic women in all areas, the report says, but they plummeted particularly drastically among Hispanic women. While Hispanic women still have the highest overall fertility rates, they saw a 26% drop in rural areas (from 3,126.5 to 2,320.5); a 29% drop in small and medium metro areas (from 2,978 to 2,124); and a 30% drop in large metro areas (from 2,754 to 1,929.5).

Meanwhile, black women saw the largest increase in age of first time motherhood between 2007 and 2017. It climbed by 1.7 years in rural areas (from 21 to 22.7); by 1.9 years in small or medium metro areas (from 21.9 to 23.8); and by 2.4 years in large metro areas (from 23.2 to 25.6). White women in large cities, however, are waiting the longest to have kids: until age 29, on average.

While the NCHS report did not explore the reasons behind these trends, other research has shown that American women are also getting married later (or not at all), often to focus on education or work before settling down to start a family. And while most American women still choose to have children at some point, a New York Times survey from this year found that young adults who were either not having children, or having fewer children than they would like, listed reasons ranging from wanting more leisure time to financial concerns. Teen births have also declined dramatically in recent years, leading to fewer overall births and higher average maternal ages.

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Write to Jamie Ducharme at jamie.ducharme@time.com