The Economy and the Plummeting Birth Rate

January 16, 2015

In 2007 the American birth rate was clipping along at a steady pace. With an average of 69.3 infants being born for every 1,000 fertile-age women, U.S. citizens were making enough babies to keep the population stable. Then the economy took a nosedive the next year and the birth rate quickly followed suit. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, as of 2013 Americans were making only 62.5 babies per 1,000 potential mothers, an amount that falls well below the annual replacement rate.

Although the financial sector has long since recovered from the recession that began in 2008, millions of regular Americans are still feeling the pinch. As a result, many mothers are putting off having kids until they are financially stable enough to support children. This is especially true in the Hispanic community, a demographic that normally drives the nation’s birth rate. For instance, in 2007 Hispanic women comprised just 17 percent of U.S. females aged 15 to 24, yet they birthed 25 percent of the country’s babies. During the recession, however, births among Hispanic mothers dropped to third in the nation, representing 56 percent of the recession’s total birth decline. As many Hispanic Americans tend to be younger and live in states hurt by the housing bust, those who intend to have children are often pushing those plans back a few years.

All this could lead to a dramatic drop in population in the U.S. In fact, an estimated 2.3 million more babies would have been born during the recession had birth rates stayed at their 2007 levels. The nation has also experienced similar birth declines in past economic downturns, especially the Great Depression. “About 22 percent of women who started their childbearing careers at the start of the Depression remained childless,” said Kenneth Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire. Still, it’s possible that this impending population dip could have some benefits. After all, those couples that choose to wait later to have children will likely become more financially secure and responsible as they age. Studies show that these types of living environments produce more productive parents as well as children, which could have benefits for families in demographics across the board.

 

Questions:

  1. As the economy recovers, is the United States birth rate liable to boom?
  1. Why is population stability important to an economy?

 

Source: Allison Schrager, “What’s Behind the Recession’s Birth Dearth,” Bloomberg BusinessWeek, December 18, 2014. Photo by: Christopher Lance.

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