Study: recessions result in lower birth rates

A new study from Princeton University caught my eye.

Excerpt:

[…][N]ew research from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs shows that women who were in their early 20s during the Great Recession will have fewer children in both the short and long term. This result is driven largely by an increase in the number of women who will remain childless at age 40.

The paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to show that recessions have long-term effects on fertility, which actually increase exponentially over time.

[…]Their calculations show that a one-percentage point increase in the unemployment rate experienced between ages 20 and 24 reduces the short-term fertility of women by six conceptions per 1,000 women. When following these women to age 40, the same unemployment rate increase leads to an overall loss of 14.2 conceptions per 1,000 women. This increasing effect over time is largely accounted for by an increase in the fraction of women who remain unmarried and childless at age 40. These women not only forego first births, but forego later births as well.

In terms of the Great Recession, the researchers estimate that the increase in unemployment rates experienced between 2008 and 2013 will result in an additional 151,082 women who will remain childless at age 40, leading to a long-term loss of 420,957 conceptions (and 426,850 live births) – a 2.4 percent decrease.

People don’t just marry and have kids whenever they feel like it. However individual people may feel about romance and recklessness and risk-taking, the general behavior pattern is that if the economy is lousy, then people have fewer children. That’s because they can’t afford them. Maybe grown-ups should be thinking more about economic growth, by lowering taxes and reducing wasteful spending.

But there’s more to it than that:

But what are the economic mechanisms driving these results? Currie and Schwandt cite recent empirical studies showing that young adults – especially young men – who enter the job market during an economic downturn are likely to have persistently lower earnings as they age. This phenomenon may make young men less attractive matches for women, explaining the increase in the number of women who forego childbearing.

This quote made me think of another post from the liberal 538 blog.

Ben Casselman writes:

In its report last week, Pew suggested that one reason for falling marriage rates is the decline in employment among young men. That may also help explain the education gap in marriage. Put simply, men without jobs are much less likely to get married, and men without a college degree are much less likely to get jobs.

In the Pew survey, 78 percent of never-married women said it was “very important” for a prospective spouse (in most cases, a husband) to have a steady job. That ranked above any other requirement, including “same moral and religious beliefs” (38 percent), “at least as much education” (28 percent) and even “similar ideas about having and raising children” (70 percent). The survey results are borne out by women’s actual behavior. About half of men ages 25 to 34 with a steady job have been married, compared to just a third of those without a steady job.

For men without a steady job, having more education doesn’t help much in terms of finding a spouse — marriage rates are nearly identical regardless of education. But having a degree makes men much more likely to be employed — and therefore more likely to get married. According to the Current Population Survey, more than 20 percent of men ages 25 to 34 with a high school diploma are out of work, versus 10 percent of young men with a college degree. And when they do have jobs, less-educated men earn less and are more likely to be laid off.

For a long time in this country, we have had schools that discriminate against young men and punish them. There are virtually no male teachers in the classrooms. This has a profound effect on young men, causing them to become disinterested in school, which makes it harder for them to find jobs.

USA Today reports on a relevant study:

For all the differences between the sexes, here’s one that might stir up debate in the teacher’s lounge: Boys learn more from men and girls learn more from women.

That’s the upshot of a provocative study by Thomas Dee, an associate professor of economics at Swarthmore College and visiting scholar at Stanford University. His study was to appear Monday in Education Next, a quarterly journal published by the Hoover Institution.

Vetted and approved by peer reviewers, Dee’s research faces a fight for acceptance. Some leading education advocates dispute his conclusions and the way in which he reached them.

But Dee says his research supports his point, that gender matters when it comes to learning. Specifically, as he describes it, having a teacher of the opposite sex hurts a student’s academic progress.

Everything is connected together. We need a strong economy and well-educated young men in order to make marriage and child-bearing reasonable to men.

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