January 8th, 2009 | Posted in Marriage/Family
by Carl Haub, senior demographer
There is a good bit of evidence that hard economic times cause people to delay having a child or not have one altogether, circumstantial as that evidence might be. In the United States, there were two notable 20th Century baby “busts,” one during the Great Depression that bottomed out at a total fertility rate (TFR) of 2.1 children per woman in 1936 and another during the inflationary “oil shock” decade of the 1970s when the TFR set an all-time low record of 1.7 that still stands. In Sweden, rather wild swings in the TFR seem to follow trends in employment and in Eastern Europe, the bottom fell out of the TFR as the breakup of the Soviet bloc destroyed economies.
Source: National Center for Health Statistics (click to view full size).
So, will it happen this time? In the 1970s, there were quite a few things going on which makes a direct connection between the economy and TFR decline a bit murky. The TFR had been dropping rapidly since the late 1960s, possibly connected with the feminist movement as women looked to careers beyond the traditional nurse, teacher, and secretary. And Roe vs. Wade, which confirmed the legality of abortion on demand, passed in a number of states in Jan., 1973. The Depression decline might seem more clear, but the TFR had been falling throughout the Roaring Twenties.
Perhaps the current period will provide a better laboratory. The TFR has been relatively steady at 2.0 to 2.1 for about a decade and there have been no major events such as Roe vs. Wade. Unemployment is rising and the airwaves flood our living rooms and cars with one bit of scary news after another. Bad news travels fast and furiously these days, much more so than in the 1970s and 1930s.