Many American women put off having children when times got hard in the recession. Now there’s more reason to worry they won’t have those kids at all.
In a new paper published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Princeton University researchers Janet Currie and Hannes Schwandt cast doubt on the idea of a baby rebound. Women in their early 20s who went through the Great Recession, they believe, are likely not just to postpone births, but forgo them. The researchers analyzed U.S. birth records for American-born women between 1975 and 2010, a period that covers five recessions.
They found that a 1-percentage-point increase in the average unemployment rate experienced by women between the ages of 20 and 24 in a particular U.S. state reduced short-term fertility of women by six conceptions per 1,000. When these women get to age 40, the same uptick in joblessness leads to a loss of 14.2 conceptions per 1,000 women, largely thanks to an increase in the share of childless women.
As for the Great Recession, the spike in unemployment between 2008 and 2013 could mean there are an additional 151,000 women who end up not having a child by age 40. Over 400,000 fewer children could be born over the long term due to the recession, they figure.
“The negative effects on fertility grow over time,” the researchers say.
What’s driving this? Bad economic times mean fewer men with jobs, for one thing, and less attractive matches for women—and that leads to more women who forgo kids. This economic mechanism makes sense—indeed, it’s a big reason why marriage rates have been falling for years, as Pew Research Center explored last week.
There are some major caveats to keep in mind, however.
A sizable chunk of the women in the Princeton study may have changed states, complicating the analysis. Immigrants—a big driver of U.S. fertility—weren’t included. And, all told, the “lost” births due to the correlation between unemployment and fertility aren’t all that great; it’s a rather small sum, actually.
More importantly, though, it’s really tough to create a causal link between recessions and fertility. Some of these women probably didn’t have kids for other reasons. After all, fertility is falling throughout the Western world.
Other demographers believe that over the long haul, the nation’s fertility rates rest more on societal changes than economic ones.
Mark Mather of the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit demographic research group, says that while fertility rates fall during economic declines, the downturns tend to be minor and last two to five years. The U.S. fertility rate fell to low levels during the Great Depression and the economic malaise of the 1970s, but its long-term direction since has tended to be driven more by societal factors, not the vicissitudes of the economy. Many demographers expect fertility to pick up eventually as the economy improves and the number of women entering prime child-bearing age rises.
In the years since the recession officially ended, the nation’s fertility rate—the number of births per 1,000 women 15 to 44 years of age—has bottomed out, edging down to a record low of 62.9 in 2013, the latest official data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If overall fertility stays low or falls, the logic goes, this is really more because of changes like young people delaying marriage, more women working, access to contraception and the rising cost of having a family—though there’s no doubt economic duress plays a role.
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Yep, those Somali immigrants have huge families. Just bring a few more of them and bingo! Problems over. Unless you are concerned with “demographic replacement” which is definitely happening all over the West.