Are Fewer Births Due to the Economy?

A sharp decline in fertility rates in the United States that started in 2008 is closely linked to the souring of the economy that began about the same time, according to a new analysis of multiple economic and demographic data sources by the Pew Research Center.

Gretchen  Livingston, a senior researcher with Pew, says, "The year 2007 marked a record high number of births in the U.S.—4,316,233. Preliminary data for 2009 indicate that the number of births dropped to 4,131,018—the lowest number since 2004. Provisional data show that in 2010 births numbered just over 4 million (4,007,000).

A state-level look at fertility illustrates the strength of the correlation between lower birth rates and economic distress. States experiencing the largest economic declines in 2007 and 2008 were most likely to experience relatively large fertility declines from 2008 to 2009, the analysis finds. States with relatively minor economic declines were likely to experience relatively small declines.

Six of the seven economic indicators that the Pew Research Center analyzed were strongly linked to subsequent changes in fertility at the state level. In particular, changes in per capita personal income, per capita GDP, employment rate, unemployment rate and initial unemployment claims from 2007 to 2008 were closely related to changes in fertility rates occurring from 2008 to 2009, as were 2008 state-level foreclosure rates

Experts suggest that much of the fertility decline that occurs during an economic decline is postponement of childbearing and does not represent a decision to have fewer children. In other words, people put off having children during the economic downturn, and then catch up on fertility once economic conditions improve.

It’s too early to know if fertility will bounce back as the U.S. economy recovers, but preliminary evidence suggests that the fertility decline may indeed be driven by postponement."

Posted by Dale Hudson