Drop in U.S. birth rate linked to economic slump

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After steadily growing from 2003 to 2006 and reaching an all-time high in 2007, the U.S. birth rate declined in 2008, coinciding with the economic downturn, according to a new analysis from the Pew Research Center. Utilizing 2008 birth and economic data available for 25 states, researchers noticed that in most states the birth rate (defined as the number of women of childbearing age who give birth each year) declined or plateaued in 2008 compared with the previous year. Across the population studied, which includes more than half (54%) of all U.S. women between the ages of 15 to 44, researchers noted that the birth rate was 68.8 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, a 1.6% drop from the previous year’s birth rate of 69.9 per 1,000. During that same time period, most states saw drops either in employment, slowed growth of per capita income or both. As the report authors conclude, “The analysis suggests that the falloff in fertility coincides with deteriorating economic conditions.”

The findings are in keeping with the results of a 2009 Pew survey in which 14% of Americans between the ages of 18 to 34, and 8% of those between the ages of 35 to 44 said they held off on having children because of the recession. Previous research has shown that dips in birth rates often accompany economic slumps—such as the Great Depression. From 1926 to 1936 the birth rate plummeted by 26%, for example. Yet, the authors point out, those birth rate busts seldom last long.

Read the full report here (PDF).