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ND's high-flying birth rates may have leveled off in oil slowdown

FARGO -- North Dakota women have some of the nation's highest fertility rates. But a dip last year in the state's baby boom, an echo of the now-faded oil boom, could signal a new trend of stable or slightly declining births.

Lauren Cassezza, a nurse in the CHI St. Joseph's Health baby wing in Dickinson, N.D., looks after a newborn on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2015. Births were up in western North Dakota in 2015 but down statewide. (Submitted Photo by Stephanie Fong / CHI St. Joseph's Health)
Lauren Cassezza, a nurse in the CHI St. Joseph's Health baby wing in Dickinson, N.D., looks after a newborn on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2015. Births were up in western North Dakota in 2015 but down statewide. (Submitted Photo by Stephanie Fong / CHI St. Joseph's Health)

FARGO - North Dakota women have some of the nation's highest fertility rates. But a dip last year in the state's baby boom, an echo of the now-faded oil boom, could signal a new trend of stable or slightly declining births.

North Dakota's birth rate began an impressive rise in 2011, when it ranked 13th among the states. By 2015, the state's birth rate was behind only Utah and Alaska. In North Dakota last year, 149 births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 50 were recorded, according to figures kept by the North Dakota Census Office.

That rate was up from 135 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age in 2011 - the largest rise among the nine states that saw an increase over that period.

But 2015 also marked the year the number of births in North Dakota dipped - the first drop since 2001, according to figures by the North Dakota Department of Health. Live births declined from 11,352 to 11,265 last year.

Now, as 2016 winds down, it's still too early to say whether a new trend has begun, but the state's demographer suspects the lag could last awhile, along with the slowdown in oil development.

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"My guess is we may see some leveling off of that," said Kevin Iverson, manager of the North Dakota Census Office.

The duration of the dip likely will mirror the slump in oil prices, and it's difficult to forecast the timing of a rebound in the price of oil, he said.

"The crystal ball on what happens to the price of oil continues to be foggy," hampering many demographic and economic forecasts in North Dakota, Iverson said.

North Dakota's baby boom largely was fueled by the influx of young adults, drawn by jobs in the Oil Patch. Related to that, the state's rise in personal income made young couples more economically secure, and therefore more likely to decide to have children, Iverson said.

"Younger adults are far more mobile than older adults," much more likely to uproot for a new job, he said. "They get up and move."

In North Dakota, the most likely age for a mother at the birth of her child was 27, according to the North Dakota Census Office. Also, 83 percent of birth mothers were between the ages of 20 and 34.

For women younger than 20 years old when they gave birth, the percentage of mothers who were not married was 83 percent. That rate was 50 percent for mothers ages 20 to 24. In the 25- to 29-year-old age bracket, the percentage of women who gave birth out of wedlock dropped significantly, to 14 percent.

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2991925+0B52DXJ0KvwFrQV8tck5mYjJCZXM.jpg
Lauren Cassezza, a nurse in the CHI St. Joseph's Health baby wing in Dickinson, N.D., looks after a newborn on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2015. Births were up in western North Dakota in 2015 but down statewide. (Submitted Photo by Stephanie Fong / CHI St. Joseph's Health)

Related Topics: FAMILY
Patrick Springer first joined The Forum in 1985. He covers a wide range of subjects including health care, energy and population trends. Email address: pspringer@forumcomm.com
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