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Friday, October 14, 2011

Births, Economics, Politics

In Our Country (pp. 43-44), Michael Barone writes:
No statistic probes more deeply into people's personal lives, into the things they care about most, than the fertility rate. This statistic -- the annual number of births per1,000 women aged 15 to 44 -- had been declining in the 1920s, in line with the typical pattern in increasingly affluent countries and also in response to the cutoff in immigration ... Fertility fell even more sharply as the economy collapsed. In 1929 and 1930, there were 89 births for each 1,000 women in the childbearing years; most of these children were conceived before the 1929 crash and all before it became apparent that the depression was not going to end soon. In 1931, the fertility rate dropped to 85, in 1932 to 82, and in 1933 to 76, and it remained at about that level until World War II.
That passage provides a backdrop for a new Pew Research Center report, which finds a close link between a plunge in fertility rates and the economic turmoil of recent years.
The official start of the U.S. economic recession was in December 2007, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. However, the timing and magnitude of economic declines associated with the recession have varied markedly from state to state. For instance, per capita income in Nevada declined by 4.6% from 2007 to 2008, while in West Virginia, per capita income increased by 1.6%. And in states such as Arizona, per capita income began declining by 2007, while in states such as Alaska and Montana declines did not appear until 2009.


In 48 of 51 states (a number that includes the District of Columbia), fertility declines occurred within one to two years of the start of economic declines (as indicated by the percent change in personal income per capita, and the percent change in the employment rate). This does not conclusively prove that the economic changes led to fertility changes. However, the timing is consistent with the time it might take people to act upon fertility decisions.