Are economic improvements bringing about more visits from the stork?

Minnesota Public Radio is about to get a boost in new members. Roughly ten percent of the people who work in our newsroom have either welcomed a new baby in the past couple months or are expecting one soon.

And this prompted us to wonder if there was a trend in play– a baby boom coinciding with the (slowly) improving economy. Anecdotally, I was hearing support for this thesis. Each time I mentioned our newsroom’s baby boomlet to other people, they’d chime in by saying, “It’s the same at my job–everyone’s pregnant.”

So I started looking into whether there’s any sign of a rebound in birth rates. The Pew Center for Research had suggested that those rates dropped off considerably due to the economic downturn.

And state demographer Susan Brower says this is about the time that her office was expecting to see births pick up, as the economy recovers.

I found some evidence suggesting such a birth renaissance. For example, Medica spokesman Greg Bury told me that the health plan had been seeing a decline in birth-related insurance claims in Minnesota from 2000 to 2010. But then in 2011, deliveries ticked up 3.8 percent–the first increase in years. Bury said that increase was per 1,000 members, which eliminates the possibility that the growth was simply because of a spike in membership.

But other local sources muddied the picture. HealthPartners’ Jeff Shelman provided some numbers from Regions Hospital, which the insurer owns. He says the hospital numbers were easier to pull than insurance claims. Shelman says Regions did have a 3.4 percent increase in births between 2010 and 2011. But the latest numbers tell another story: total births for the first three months of this year are down about 4 percent from the same period last year.

And Fairview Health Services system is seeing a continued decline in Minnesota.

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Data from the feds were less ambiguous and really seemed to belie a baby boom. The most recent state-level numbers available from the National Center for Health Statistics show that births in Minnesota continued to decline between 2010 and 2011. That’s according to provisional estimates.

It was the same story at the national level. Though the decline in the birth rate did moderate in the first six months of 2011, provisional data show it still dropped between 2010 and 2011.

So, it looks like there isn’t a baby boom yet in Minnesota or nationally. Maybe here at MPR we’re just seeing a boomlet because of the demographics of our workplace. Several of us are at the age when the biological clock ticks loudly.

None of the expectant moms and dads here said economic improvements are playing a role in the timing of their baby plans.

We’ll be keeping an eye on this story to see if the state’s birth rates do turn back in the other direction and whether the economy does end up factoring into that reversal.

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