The U.S. recorded the most deaths in its history and the fewest births since 1998, resulting in the lowest population gain from natural causes in 35 years, an analysis of 2013 Census Bureau estimates released Thursday shows.
Americans remain cautious about having babies following the worst recession since the Great Depression, although they are increasingly changing residences again, suggesting growing confidence in the economic recovery.
Those are among the findings from county-level data that also show the largest metropolitan areas are getting bigger as much of the rest of the nation sees slower population growth or declines. Rural areas where oil and natural gas production is booming and Gulf Coast retirement conclaves are notable exceptions to that trend.
"The recession's influence on migration may be waning, but it continues to have a negative impact on births," said Ken Johnson, a senior demographer with the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute who analyzed the data.
If the nation returned to a more normal fertility rate, it could boost the economy by spurring demand for new homes and goods ranging from diapers to furniture and cars. Rising fertility rates in states such as South Dakota, where unemployment is 3.6 percent, have prompted some demographers and economists to predict a reversal of the nationwide decline in fertility that coincided with the recession and its aftermath.
Johnson's analysis is based on newly released data for the year ending July 1, 2013. It shows there were 3.95 million births during those 12 months, compared with 4.31 million in the pre-recession 2006-07 period, a drop of 8.4 percent amid an overall U.S. population that continued to grow because of immigration.
The preliminary U.S. fertility rate for the 12-month period ending June 2013 was 62.7 births per 1,000 women ages 15-44, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. That was down from the recent-history high of 69.3 in 2007, and slightly down from the year ending June 30, 2012.