A commenter in another post asked, “How is making it so financially difficult for people to marry and have kids ‘pro-life’?” Good question. Data just released suggests that the bad economy is forcing more people to think twice about having children.
A decline in fertility rates that began in 2008 is closely linked to financial woes that started at the same time, said a new Pew Research Center report issued Wednesday. Changes in personal income, per capita GDP, unemployment rates and claims, and state-level foreclosure rates all had an effect.
In 2007, there were 69.7 babies per 1,000 women of childbearing age. Provisional data for 2010 showed that number had dropped to 64.7.
The actual number of births from 2008 to 2009 rose only in one state, North Dakota, which also posted one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates at 3.1%.
“This does not conclusively prove that the economic changes led to fertility changes,” the Pew report said. “However, the timing is consistent with the time it might take people to act upon fertility decisions.”
Historically, there’s evidence to back up the Pew analysis.
Demographer Carl Haub said baby busts have occurred in other bleak economic eras of U.S. history. During the Great Depression, the fertility rate fell to 76.15. During the oil shock decade of the 1970s, it plunged to 64.99.
In that sense, what’s happening now is normal.
“It’s almost certainly due to a lack of confidence in the economy,” said Haub of the private Washington-based Population Reference Bureau.
Having children, he said, is expensive. You have to feed them, clothe them and send them to day care. And that’s hard when you’re without a paycheck or booted from your house.
The same kinds of trends affect European nations as well. Fertility rates plunged, for instance, in Eastern Europe when the breakup of the Soviet Union destroyed the local economy. And they are down now, amid the current crisis, Haub said.
“Unemployment is rising and the airwaves flood our living rooms and cars with one bit of scary news after another,” Haub wrote in a 2009 report predicting birth rate declines in the current recession. “Bad news travels fast and furiously these days, much more so than in the 1970s and 1930s.”