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2011 birth rate lowest since 1920

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By The Washington Post
Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, 9:06 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The birth rate plunged last year to a low, with the decline led by immigrant women hit hard by the recession, according to a study released on Thursday by the Pew Research Center.

The overall birth rate declined by 8 percent between 2007-10, with a decrease of 6 percent among U.S.-born women and 14 percent among foreign-born women. The decline for Mexican immigrant women was more extreme, at 23 percent.

The overall birth rate is now at its lowest since 1920 — the earliest year with reliable records.

The decline could have far-reaching implications for economic and social policy. A continuing decline would challenge long-held assumptions that births to immigrants will help maintain the population and provide the tax-paying work force to support the aging baby-boomer generation.

The birth rate — 63.2 births per 1,000 women of child-bearing age — has fallen to just over half of what it was at its peak in 1957. The rate among foreign-born women also has been declining in recent decades, according to the report, though more slowly.

Although the declining birth rate has not yet resulted in the stark imbalances in graying countries such as Japan or Italy, the drop should serve as a wake-up call for policymakers, said Roberto Suro, a professor of public policy at the University of Southern California.

“We've been assuming that when the baby-boomer population gets most expensive, that there are going to be immigrants and their children who are going to be paying into programs for the elderly, but in the wake of what's happened in the last five years, we have to re-examine those assumptions,” he said.

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