By Mary Elizabeth Dallas
THURSDAY, May 17, 2018 (HealthDay News) -- American women continue to wait longer to have children.
Birth rates fell for nearly all age groups of women younger than 40 in 2017, sending overall fertility rates to a record low, U.S. health officials reported Thursday.
The only age group that saw a rise in birth rates: Women in their early 40s.
"This is the third year that the [overall] number of births has declined after an increase in 2014, and the lowest number of births in 30 years," said a team from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the United States, the provisional or "draft" number of births in 2017 was tallied at 3,853,472 births -- a 2 percent drop from the year before.
"The newest birth statistics are very interesting," said Dr. Jennifer Wu, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "The United States is experiencing its lowest birth rate in 30 years. This will change the demographics of the nation, as there will be a growing number of older Americans in the coming years."
The general fertility rate among women between the ages of 15 and 44 was 60.2 births per 1,000 women, said the team led by Brady Hamilton, of the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. The researchers said that represents a 3 percent drop from 2016, and it's the biggest one-year decline seen since 2010.
Teen birth rates also fell 7 percent in 2017 among teens aged 15 to 19, the CDC said.
"Education and access to contraception are big factors in decreasing teen pregnancies," Wu noted.
However, the birth rate actually went up a bit for women aged 40 to 44, the report found. In this age group, there were 11.6 births per 1,000 women, up 2 percent from 2016.
According to Wu, "this may reflect changing career paths for women, and also advances in assisted reproduction."
Another ob/gyn agreed. "Many of these women are using assisted reproductive technologies to get pregnant," said Dr. James Ducey, who directs obstetrics at Staten Island University Hospital, in New York City. But he added that his birthing unit, and others that he's been in contact with, have seen an overall decline in births recently.
Overall, U.S. birth rates fell by 3 percent for whites, 2 percent for Hispanics and remained unchanged for black women, the CDC team said.
Rates of C-sections were essentially unchanged, at close to one-third of deliveries. There were more preterm births for the third consecutive year, increasing to close to 10 percent of births in 2017, the CDC reported.
Researchers also found the rate of low birth weight hit 8.3 percent last year -- one of the highest levels in more than a decade.
The CDC report was released online May 17 in a National Vital Statistics System Rapid Release.