ATLANTA - The U.S. teen birthrate fell in 2009 to its lowest point in almost 70 years of record-keeping, a decline that stunned experts who believe it's partly due to the recession.

The rate fell to 39 births per 1,000 teens ages 15 through 19, according to a government report released yesterday. It was a 6 percent decline from the previous year, and the lowest since health officials started tracking the rate in 1940.

Experts say the recession, December 2007 to June 2009, was a major factor driving down births overall, and there's good reason to think it affected would-be teen mothers.

"I'm not suggesting that teens are examining futures of 401(k)s or how the market is doing," said Sarah Brown, chief executive of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. "But I think they are living in families that experience that stress. The recession has touched us all."

Teen moms account for about 10 percent of the nation's births. The total number of births has been dropping, as have birthrates among all women except those 40 and older.

For comparison, look to the peak year of teen births, 1957. There were 96 births per 1,000 teen girls that year, but it was an era when women married younger, said Stephanie Ventura, a co-author of the report issued by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overall, about 4.1 million babies were born in 2009, down almost 3 percent from 2008. It's the second consecutive drop in births, which had been on the rise since 2000. And a preliminary count of births through the first six months of this year suggests a continuing drop, CDC officials said.

A decline in immigration, blamed on the weak job market, is another factor cited. A large proportion of immigrants are Hispanic, and they accounted for nearly 1 in 4 births in 2009. The birthrate among Hispanic teens is the highest of any ethnic group, with 70 births per 1,000 girls in 2009. Yet, that rate, too, was down from the previous year.

Other findings:

The Cesaerean delivery rate rose yet again, to about 33 percent of births. That rate has been rising every year since 1996.

The preterm birthrate, for infants delivered at less than 37 weeks of pregnancy, dropped for the third straight year to about 12 percent of all births.

Birthrates were down from 2008 in almost every age group. The rate for women in their early 20s plummeted 7 percent, the largest decline for that age group since 1973. The one exception was women older then 40, a group that may be more concerned with declining fertility than the economy.

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