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CHICAGO (Reuters) - The U.S. teen birthrate dropped to its lowest level in the seven decades government researchers have been tracking it, government researchers said on Tuesday.
Babies born to American teens aged 15 to 19 fell 6 percent to a record 39.1 births per 1,000, according to preliminary numbers released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The decline cut across racial and ethnic lines, as birth rates for younger and older teens and for Hispanic, white, black, American Indian or Alaska Native and Asian or Pacific Islander teenagers all hit historic lows in 2009.
The team at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, which is based on nearly 100 percent of birth records collected in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories, also showed drops in the overall fertility rate -- the average number of births that a group of women would have over their lifetimes -- and the total number of U.S. births.
The study also found that the total number of babies born to unmarried women fell last year, the first drop since 1997. But because total births dropped even further, the percentage of births to unmarried mothers rose slightly in 2009.
Babies born to women in their 20s fell 7 percent last year, marking the biggest drop in this age group since 1973.
Birth rates also fell for women in their late 20s and 30s. But the rate for women in their early 40s rose slightly in 2009.
Among the other findings:
* Pre-term births fell for the third straight year in 2009 to about 12.2 percent of all births.
* The proportion of babies born by Caesarean delivery rose to a record high of 32.9 percent in 2009 from 32.3 in 2008, reflecting a steady increase since 1996, when the rate was 20.7 percent.
* The number of low birthweight babies held steady in 2009 at less than 8.2 percent, down slightly from the record high of 8.3 in 2006.
The full report is available at www.cdc.gov/nchs
Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Eric Walsh