This likely won't surprise anybody who spent 2009 studiously ignoring the remaining balance on their ATM receipts, but the birth rate takes a noticeable hit during a recession. It's not simply that everybody puts childbearing off a couple of years — there are fewer babies born overall.
The Atlantic reports on a new study from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, by researchers at Princeton. Everybody knows it wasn't an accident that America's midcentury baby boom happened as the economy finally started humming again. But it's striking to see the actual numbers on downturns and fertility:
The authors analyzed approximately 140 million individual birth records for all births in the United States from 1975 and 2010. They found that, for a group of 1,000 women aged 20 to 24, each percentage-point increase in the national unemployment rate resulted in 14 fewer children conceived—total, for the 1,000 women—over the course of their lifetimes. In the scheme of things, this is a relatively small effect, accounting for just .7 percent of all of the women's pregnancies.
It's not just a matter of one less baby here and there, an occasional family of four instead of five: "The shift meant that about five additional women in that cohort remained childless forever." The 2008 downturn will account for 426,850 fewer live births among women 20 to 24, and that's "driven largely by women who remain childless." The Atlantic concludes that by the time all these women are 40, the rates of 'em that are sans offspring will climb 9 percent. (Experts estimate that HOT TAKES on the subject will increase exponentially.)
Nobody likes a shitty economy and its life-plan-derailing effects, but on the bright side, I do wonder whether this makes the conversation easier if you already know in your bones you're meant to be childfree. Opening your wallet and finding nothing but dust and crumpled receipts probably makes it easier to resist the insane cultural pressure to just have some babies already. Maybe it's enough to produce a real cultural shift, where everybody's free to make their own call without a bunch of nosy nellies wading into their most intimate business.
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