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For the first time in 18 years, U.S. women of childbearing age are having an average of two babies each, new government statistics show.

According to data compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics, the estimated fertility rate for women between the ages of 15 and 44 in 1989 was 2.0 children per woman.

The 1989 figure is an increase from the lowest recorded rate of 1.74 per woman in 1976. It is also the first time since 1972 that women have averaged 2 children each.

The center also estimates that 4,021,000 children were born last year, the most since 1964.

Stephanie Ventura, a demographer at the center, said the total number of births is likely to decline in the next few years, despite the higher fertility rate. A decline can be expected, she said because members of the "baby boom" generation are gradually aging beyond childbearing age.

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