NEW YORK — US births fell for the fourth year in a row, the government reported Wednesday, with specialists calling it more proof that the weak economy has continued to dampen enthusiasm for having children.
But there may be a silver lining: The decline in 2011 was just 1 percent, not as sharp a fall-off as the 2 to 3 percent drop seen in other recent years.
‘‘It may be that the effect of the recession is slowly coming to an end,’’ said Carl Haub, a senior demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, a Washington, D.C.-based research organization.
Most striking in the new report were steep declines in Hispanic birth rates and a new low in teen births. Hispanics have been disproportionately affected by the flagging economy, specialists say, and teen birth rates have been falling for 20 years.
Falling births is a relatively new phenomenon in this country. Births had been on the rise since the late 1990s and hit an all-time high of more than 4.3 million in 2007.
But fewer than 4 million births were counted last year, the lowest number since 1998.
Among the people who study the birth rate, the flagging economy has been seen as the primary explanation. The theory is that many women or couples who are out of work, underemployed, or have other money problems feel they cannot afford to start a family or add to it.