Your Facebook news feed may be full of baby pictures, but the 2013 birth rate for Kansas was the lowest since record keeping began in 1912.
“There’s no reason to panic just yet, but Kansas is on the threshold,” said Laszlo Kulcsar, professor of sociology and demographer at Kansas State University.
“The ideas about families have changed a lot, and today people don’t really want to have a gazillion kids for a number of reasons. They want to have one or two or maybe not even one. That drives general trends.”
The Kansas rate of 13.4 births per 1,000 is a decrease by 4.3 percent from 2012, according to the most recent annual vital statistics report.
Kansas had several years in recent history in which birth rates decreased significantly, including from 2008 to 2011 and from 1992 to 1996.
The numbers reflect a national downward trend.
In 2013, national birth rates dropped to record lows for women under 30, and the general fertility rate was also at an all-time low, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Several factors are at work, Kulcsar said.
Part of the reason for the decrease is aging baby boomers. The birth rate is based on the number of births for every 1,000 people. As the baby boom generation gets older, there are fewer women of child-bearing age, which will have a bigger impact on the numbers.
The economy also affects birth rates, but usually temporarily.
“I think it’s still having an effect. The economy is bouncing back, but having a child is a major decision so people are not just going to do this willy-nilly if they see a new factory going up in town,” Kulcsar said. “It’s much easier to scare people into waiting than provide an economic environment that will make them feel like they’re back to normal and should have a child.”
From 2009 to 2013, the number of births in Sedgwick County decreased by about 800 – from 8,293 to 7,487 – said Greg Crawford, chief of vital statistics and data analysis for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
“There were substantial changes in the airplane industry in 2012 and 2013, and some of those may have had a direct impact,” Crawford said.
At Wesley Medical Center, which delivers the most babies in the region, there was a slight dip in the number of births from its average of around 6,000 to 5,868 in 2013. But that number bounced back to 6,049 in 2014, said Jane Parker, vice president of women’s services.
The number of births includes live, stillborn and multiples born at the hospital, she said.
Cathi Blise, chief nursing officer at Wesley, said in the past few years they’ve seen more older moms.
“Women are spending a lot more time looking at planning their life. They’re thinking education first, get married, then have a family,” Blise said.
The hospital is also seeing a slight increase in the number of twins and triplets, which could partially be the result of more older moms, Blise said. The increase in twin births is also a national trend.
There were 38,805 births to Kansas residents in 2013. The vital statistics report also said teen pregnancies that year were the lowest in 20 years.
The abortion rate for Kansans ticked up slightly in 2013, but is still trending downward to about 97 abortions per 1,000 live births.
Kulcsar said one way for Kansas and the U.S. to mitigate decreasing birth and fertility rates is through immigration.
If a state has many people moving in, chances are that will include younger women who will eventually establish families and raise the birth rate, offsetting the aging population, he said.
The decrease in the overall birth rate makes the number of Kansas infants who died in 2013 look significantly higher than in years past.
The actual number of infant deaths, 248, was the second lowest in the state’s history, Crawford said.
“Had we kept the same number of infant deaths and had a normal number of births, the rate probably would have gone down,” he said.
It’s important to look at five-year rolling averages to find trends, said Christy Schunn, executive director of the Kansas Infant Death and SIDS Network.
The rolling average shows a downward trend in infant mortality in Kansas, despite the uptick in the rate for 2013.
“When we isolate one year from another year, it can spike up and down pretty quickly,” Schunn said.
“The fact that there’s a continued downward trend is positive reinforcement for the work being done, but there’s still more work to do.”
The three leading causes of infant death are premature birth, congenital abnormalities and unsafe sleep, Schunn said.
A Fetal Infant Mortality Review and Maternal Infant Health Coalition were formed to look into the issue and create a plan to help curb it, Schunn said. The groups are made up of people from local governments, the medical society, the University of Kansas and other organizations.
The groups have created tool kits for doctors to help teach parents and caregivers about safe sleep, and they’ve hosted community baby showers that give information and baby items, Schunn said.
For the past 20 years, African-Americans have had infant mortality rates nearly triple those of white non-Hispanics and Hispanics in Kansas.
Schunn said the groups are working with E.C. Tyree Clinic and targeting ZIP codes in the Wichita area with the most deaths.