Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Great Recession, Fertility, and Uncertainty: Evidence from the United States

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Great Recession, Fertility, and Uncertainty: Evidence from the United States

Article excerpt

The economic effects of the Great Recession have been readily apparent in high levels of unemployment and unprecedented levels of mortgage foreclosure. These economic effects have also had important social consequences for American families. The Great Recession led some couples to put off divorce (Cherlin, Cumberworth, Morgan, & Wimer, 2013; Cohen, 2014), reduced relationship quality (Schneider, Harknett, & McLanahan, 2014), and increased doubling-up in households (Wiemers, 2014). It also appears that the Great Recession lowered fertility in the United States. This question has received enormous attention in the popular press but has been subject to little detailed demographic analysis. The relationship between recession and fertility captures the public interest and is of academic note both because it speaks to the real social effects of economic downturns and also because such patterns reveal a regularity in social life, a way in which surprising economic events may have predictable effects.

Analyses of the effect of economic conditions on fertility in the United States have a long scholarly history (Ogburn & Thomas, 1922). Seminal work by Rindfuss, Morgan, and Swicegood (1988) found a negative relationship between first births and unemployment in a period including the Great Depression. In addition, a number of studies have examined the relationship between normal business cycles and fertility and found evidence of modest negative effects over the second half of the 20th century (e.g., Schaller, 2012). A much larger body of research has investigated how economic conditions have affected fertility in Europe and has found evidence of negative effects across a number of countries (Sobotka, Skirbekk, & Philipov, 2011). All of this work has sought to understand the social effects of macro-economic variation and sharp downturns.

Several recent studies have provided early evidence that the Great Recession has reduced fertility (Ananat, Gassman-Pines, & Gibson-Davis, 2013; Cherlin et al., 2013; Morgan, Cumberland, & Wimer, 2011a). However, our understanding of the Great Recession's effects on fertility remains incomplete. First, the few studies to date have not considered the full time span of the Great Recession, which, when measured by periods of high foreclosure or high unemployment, spanned a period much longer than the official recession years of 2008-2009. Also, nearly all work on the recession and fertility has focused on unemployment to the exclusion of foreclosure, yet foreclosure was a key aspect of economic distress in the Great Recession. Moreover, foreclosure may capture important social and economic processes that are not measured by unemployment alone. For example, women living in states with higher rates of foreclosure may have experienced greater declines in home value even on non-foreclosed homes (Harding, Rosenblatt, & Yao, 2009), and exposure to high rates of foreclosure, net of other economic conditions, appears to have important effects on mental health (Houle & Light, 2014) and, as Houle (2014) argued, on the the social organization and resources of communities.

Second, the role of economic uncertainty has loomed large in the discussion of the causes of the Great Recession. For instance, Akerlof and Schiller's (2009) prominent account of emotions and the economy focused on the role of Keynesian "animal spirits" in driving the economy. Though scholars of European fertility have examined how economic uncertainty about the likelihood of future negative events may shape childbearing (e.g., Hofmann & Hohmeyer, 2013), very little attention has been given to the role of the Great Recession in creating such economic uncertainty at the household level and of the consequences of such emotional responses for demographic behavior in the United States.

In this article, I draw on panels of state(2001-2012) and county-level (2001-2010) fertility data in conjunction with data at the county, state, divisional, regional, and national levels on unemployment, the employment-to-population ratio, foreclosures, consumer confidence, and press coverage of the recession to estimate panel models of the effects of recession on fertility. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.