As fertility rates have declined across the state and nationwide in recent years, Charlotte is experiencing an isolated baby boom of its own.
What’s happening: Two of the Charlotte area’s biggest hospital systems — Novant Health and Atrium Health — report that birthrates have been increasing in recent years locally.
By the numbers: Across its five hospitals in the Charlotte area, Novant Health delivered 12,327 babies last year. That’s up from 8,142 in 2011, and 4,523 in 2001, hospital data shows.
- At its biggest area facility, Presbyterian Medical Center, Novant delivered a record number of babies for the month last August — 615.
July through September is typically Novant’s busiest stretch of the year, but the trends haven’t slowed, says Heather White, the hospital’s inpatient OB care specialist and OB/GYN department chair.
“We have at Novant seen a steady increase in our [delivery] rates over the last five or 10 years,” she tells Axios.
There was concern early in the pandemic that couples wouldn’t want to have children, White adds. Local deliveries plateaued a bit in early 2021 — timed to the start of the spread of COVID-19, when people were especially anxious — “but things just ramped back up again in late 2021.”
In the Charlotte area, Atrium Health had 17,114 deliveries last year. Region-wide, birth rates have climbed about 5% since 2019, says Lorene Temming, an OB/GYN and the medical director of labor and delivery at Atrium Health CMC Women’s Institute.
- As is the case nationally, the age of mothers delivering at Atrium has increased slightly in recent years, Temming adds, as women delay having children for career reasons.
“I think it speaks largely to the opportunity here in this area. That’s why we have so many people moving in. It’s a great town to raise a family in,” Temming tells Axios.
- There’s also the remote work flexibility stemming from the pandemic that makes this an appropriate time for some young families to have children, says White of Novant.
“Women feel like, well … I can sit at my desk and send out emails while I’m pumping and multitask at home,” White says.
Zoom out: Charlotte’s trends contrast birth rates elsewhere in North Carolina and across the country.
In North Carolina, the vast majority — about 70% — of the population growth stems from migration into the state, not from any increase in residents having babies, according to Rebecca Tippett, founding director of Carolina Demography at the Carolina Population Center at UNC-Chapel Hill.
- In fact, fertility rates in North Carolina have mostly been declining since the late 2000s, per Carolina Demography.
- According to the 2020 census population estimates, there were 11.3 births per 1,000 residents in North Carolina, Tippett noted.
- The rate was highest (18.7) in Onslow, a coastal county that’s home to Jacksonville and a huge military base in Camp Lejeune, and lowest (5.8) in Watauga, home of Boone.
“As fertility rates stay low and population continues to age, net migration will be the primary (and potentially only) source of population growth for the state,” Tippett said in an email.
Nationally, fertility rates were at a record low before the pandemic began, the Pew Research Center recently noted.
- In 2020, the U.S. birth rate dropped 4%, per census data.
There’ve historical been ties between economic downturns, income and fertility rates, Pew notes. Nationally, the pandemic has exacerbated factors like employment, access to childcare and isolation from social networks — all adding to couples’ apprehension to procreate.
Then there are other looming factors affecting young people’s financial well-being — such as student loan debt — that also cause them to delay child-bearing.
The bottom line: The more young people move to Charlotte, the more new babies will call it home.
- Yes, but: It remains to be seen whether our region will continue to see rising delivery rates as those numbers decline elsewhere.