Where do babies come from?

baby boomApparently I'm not the only American with a new little bundle of joy. Bucking the trend in other industrialized nations, we're experiencing a little baby boomlet, with the most children born since 1961. Some 4.3 million babies arrived in 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Associated Press medical writer Mike Stobbe wrote up an amazingly detailed report analyzing the data. Some readers noticed something was missing:

The nearly 4.3 million births in 2006 were mostly due to a bigger population, especially a growing number of Hispanics. That group accounted for nearly one-quarter of all U.S. births.

Hmm. I wonder if there's anything we know about Hispanic women that might have anything to do with higher birth rates. Let's see what Stobbe suggests about the higher general birth rates:

Experts believe there is a mix of reasons: a decline in contraceptive use, a drop in access to abortion, poor education and poverty.

There are cultural reasons as well. Hispanics as a group have higher fertility rates--about 40 percent higher than the U.S. overall. And experts say Americans, especially those in middle America, view children more favorably than people in many other Westernized countries. . . .

The 2006 fertility rate of 2.1 children is the highest level since 1971. To be sure, the fertility rate among Hispanics--3 children per woman--has been a major contributor. That's the highest rate for any group. In 2006, for the first time, Hispanics accounted for more than 1 million births.

The high rate probably reflects cultural attitudes toward childbirth developed in other countries, experts said. Fertility rates average 2.7 in Central America and 2.4 in South America.

Hmm. What are these "cultural attitudes toward childbirth" that Hispanics apparently have?

Stobbe quotes someone who thinks immigration policy might have something to do with it since illegal immigrants have an incentive to give birth to children in America as the children are then entitled to all the benefits of citizenship. He then goes to an academic for his insight into why this baby boomlet is occurring. He says it has to do with culture more than race and that factors include "declines in contraceptive use here; limited access to abortion in some states; and a 24/7 economy that provides opportunities for mothers to return to work." There are other reasons, such as cultural acceptance of out-of-wedlock births, he says. The story also mentions that are regional variations in the United States birth rate:

New England's fertility rates are more like Northern Europe's. American women in the Midwest, South and certain mountain states tend to have more children.

Yep, I think we fully understand the data. We know exactly why Hispanics have more children, we know everything there is to know about why New England's fertility rates are as low as irreligious Europe. And we know why women in certain mountain states have more kids. Actually, apparently we need to know more about that last demographic group. In the very last line of Stobbe's lengthy piece, he finally mentions the ghost that haunts the entire piece. A Belgian academic says religion might play a role in the mountain state fertility rates. "Evangelical Protestantism and Mormons," he says.

Wow. It almost seems like demographers and reporters have to work double time to divorce religion from birth rates. One final note. This paragraph from the piece struck me:

But the higher fertility rate isn't all good. Last month, the CDC reported that America's teen birth rate rose for the first time in 15 years.

My father was born to a teenager. Glad to know that the Associated Press thinks that's "bad news." I happen to think it's good news. The fact is that value judgments such as these are best made by sources rather than the reporter. Particularly since a teenager could be 13 or 19.

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