U.S. Birth Rate Decline Linked to Recession

U.S. Birth Rate Decline Linked to Recession

by Gretchen Livingston and D’Vera Cohn, Pew Research Center
April 6, 2010
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Birth rates in the United States began to decline in 2008 after rising to their highest level in two decades, and the decrease appears to be linked to the recession, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of state fertility and economic data.

This analysis is based on data from the 25 states for which final 2008 birth numbers are available. State-level indicators were used because the magnitude and timing of the recent economic decline varies from state to state, thus allowing a more nuanced analysis of links with fertility than is possible at the national level.

In 22 of these 25 states, the birth rate — the share of women of childbearing age who gave birth — declined or leveled off in 2008, compared with the previous year. In 20 of the 25 states, the number of births declined or leveled off from the previous year.

The analysis suggests that the falloff in fertility coincides with deteriorating economic conditions. There is a strong association between the magnitude of fertility change in 2008 across states and key economic indicators including changes in per capita income, housing prices and share of the working-age population that is employed across states.

The nation’s birth rate grew each year from 2003 to 2007, and has declined since then. As will be shown later in this report, the number of births also peaked in 2007 to a record level, dipped nearly 2% in 2008 and continued to decline in 2009, according to National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) data. This analysis focuses on birth rate changes in 2008, the year after the national recession began. Research shows that past recessions are linked to fertility declines but that other factors also play a role.
State Birth Data Show Link with Economy

This analysis capitalizes on state-level differences in the magnitude and change over time of fertility and economic indicators to examine links between the two. It relies mainly on data from the 25 states that have finalized their own 2008 fertility figures.1 These states include slightly more than half the nation’s 2008 population of women of childbearing age (54%) and annual births (54%). Their total births and combined birth rate followed national trends earlier in the decade. In 2008, according to final data supplied by these states, they had a combined total of 2.29 million births, compared with 2.33 million in 2007. Their combined birth rate was 68.8 births per 1,000 women ages 15-44 in 2008, compared with 69.9 in 2007, a decline of 1.6%.

One test of the association between economic and fertility indicators is to examine whether states that experienced larger economic changes also experienced similar changes in fertility. By this measure, there is evidence of a link between fertility and some key economic indicators.

Strong associations were found between the magnitude of state-level birth rate change from 2007 to 2008 and the magnitude the previous year of per capita income change and housing price change. Strong associations also were found between the magnitude of state-level birth rate change from 2007 to 2008, and the previous year’s change in gross domestic product by state, as well as in first claims for unemployment benefits. Analysis also found a strong association between the magnitude of birth rate change from 2007-2008 and a state’s housing foreclosure rate in 2007.2 No correlation was found with change in state-level employment or unemployment rates.

Among the 25 states, Arizona’s birth rate declined more than 4% in 2008 compared with the previous year, the largest change of the 25. Its decline in per capita income in 2007 ranked second among those 25 states and its housing price change ranked sixth. Florida, which had the fourth-largest decline in birth rates among the 25 states in 2008, had a 0.5% decline in per capita income the previous year and a 2% foreclosure rate, both of which ranked worst among this group of states.

At the other end of the scale, North Dakota was one of only five of the 25 states that had a gain in its fertility rate in 2008; its growth in per capita income growth was the largest among these states, and its 2007 foreclosure rate was the second lowest among the 25 states.

Read the full report at pewsocialtrends.org.

1. In the past, provisional and final numbers for the nation have not differed markedly. However, provisional and final numbers for individual states do, which is why this analysis is based on the sample of state-supplied final figures rather than the full universe of state provisional data available from the NCHS. As an example, the 2006 NCHS provisional total of births in New Hampshire was 14,534, but final NCHS figures show there were 14,378 births that year. The provisional total indicated that births in New Hampshire increased in 2006 but the final total indicated that they did not.
2. In the group of 25 states, there were significant correlations between the 2007-2008 percent change in general fertility rate and five other variables: 2006-2007 percent change in per capita income (.56); 2006-2007 percent change in first unemployment claims (-.51); 2006-2007 percent change in gross domestic product (.49); 2006-2007 percent change in housing prices as expressed by the Housing Price Index (.41); and 2007 foreclosure rate (-.54).

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