Politics & Government

Kansas birth rate at lowest point ever amid years-long slide

Liam Marcy, photographed a day after he was born in 2017 at Wesley Medical Center to Jim and Sarah Marcy. (April 27, 2017)
Liam Marcy, photographed a day after he was born in 2017 at Wesley Medical Center to Jim and Sarah Marcy. (April 27, 2017) The Wichita Eagle

Kansas has recorded its lowest birth rate since record-keeping began as births in the state continue a decade-long slide.

The state’s rate was 12.5 births per 1,000 people in 2017, down from 13.1 in 2016.

The birth rate has been falling since 2007, when it was 15.1 births per 1,000, according to statistics the Kansas Department of Health and Environment released this week.

The United States as a whole has seen births decline during the same period. Research suggests the Great Recession — the deepest economic downturn in the country since the Great Depression in the 1930s — drove down birth rates.

The economy has since recovered, but birth rates have not. Some researchers suggest the economy remains challenging for young people, leading more to continue to delay having children.

“It’s a hard economy for young people without a college degree,” said Samuel Sturgeon, president of Demographic Intelligence. The firm issues fertility forecasts nationwide.

A 2014 study published by the Institute for Research on Poverty found that poor economic conditions are generally associated with a lower likelihood of pregnancy. Women without partners and married women showed the largest decrease in pregnancies in response to the recession, the study said.

Married women had a lower likelihood of pregnancy when unemployment rates were higher, while un-partnered women were less likely to become pregnant when mortgage foreclosure inventories were higher, the study said.

“In general, our analyses suggest that women responded to income constraints and generalized uncertainty by not getting pregnant during recessionary years,” the study said.

Teen pregnancies have also fallen sharply. Sturgeon said about 10.5 percent of children born in 2007 had mothers under 20 years old. That’s now fallen by about half in the years since.

The teenage pregnancy rate in Kansas has been falling, and has been on a downward trend since 2008. The pregnancy rate among women ages 10-19 fell from 28.8 pregnancies per 1,000 in 2008 to 12.9 in 2016.

The drop in birth rate among teens is now creeping up the age spectrum, Sturgeon said, with the average age of the mother when she has her first child also rising.

“What this tells us is mom is taking longer to have kids,” Sturgeon said.

Vanessa Sanburn runs Let’s Talk, Inc., a Lawrence-based non-profit that promotes comprehensive sex education. In an email she said that she has noticed a shift in the way teens are approaching sexual decision making during the more than 10 years she’s been in the field.

“I haven't conducted research, but based upon my observations from working with young people in a variety of school districts, they seem to be putting a much greater emphasis on personal decision making and consent than what I've observed in the past,” Sanburn said.

Data from the National Center for Health Statistics compiled by the Pew Research Center shows the teen birth rate in the U.S. has dropped from 61.8 births per 1,000 women ages 15-19 in 1990 to about 24.2 in 2014.

Pew suggested less sex, use of more effective contraception and more information about pregnancy prevention were contributing to the decline in teen birth rates.

“What we’re starting to see is that fewer and fewer kids are hooking up at all. There’s less sex, less dating, less personal interactions,” Sturgeon said.

KDHE spokesman Gerald Kratochvil said that as noted in previous statistics, “the lower birth numbers are a continuing trend in Kansas as well as a national trend.” But he indicated the agency doesn’t look at what may be causing particular trends.

Other findings released by KDHE:

Kansas saw 13,001 out-of-wedlock births in 2017, down from 13,699 in 2016.

2,701 low-birth weight infants (defined as weighing less than 2,500 grams, or about 5.5 pounds) were born in Kansas in 2017; or about 7.4 percent of all births where the infant’s weigh was known. That’s up from 7 percent in 2016.

Premature births (defined as less than 37 completed weeks of gestation) increased to 3,492 in 2017, up from 3,457 in 2016.