Babies or bust? What new data on millennial birth rates means for the future

Susan Heavey

About Susan Heavey

Susan Heavey, (@susanheavey) a Washington, D.C.-based journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on social determinants of health and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on resources and tip sheets at determinants@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: H is for Home via Flickr

Photo: H is for Home via Flickr

It’s no secret that raising children is an expensive proposition. But for millennials, who entered adulthood during the worst economic slump since the Great Depression, the 2007-09 recession appears to have done a double-whammy on their decision to enter parenthood.

A recent study by the Urban Institute found that women in their 20s had fewer babies amid the soft economy than those in previous decades. And while it is still too early to know whether they will “catch up” by having children later, the paper written by Nan Marie Astone, Steven Martin and H. Elizabeth Peters raises questions about the implications such a population dip both can have not only on U.S. families but also upward mobility and society.

Nan Marie Astone

Nan Marie Astone

The researchers found U.S. birthrates among women aged 20 to 29 began to slip after 2007, falling from 1,118 in 1,000 women to 948 in 1,000 women in 2012. At the same time, the recession hit young adults particularly hard and reduced immigration, according to demographers at the institute, a nonpartisan think tank.

That means for now, “in the near future the number of very young children will drop at least temporarily,” affecting school slots, vaccine production and other related issues, they wrote. Longer term, they added: “If these low birth rates to women in their twenties continue without a commensurate increase in birth rates to older women, the United States might eventually face the type of generational imbalance that currently characterizes Japan and some European countries.”

It could also have an impact on what future families look like if millennials have children at an older age as well as the potential for future children to face less economic inequality and greater social mobility, according to the researchers, who analyzed data from the Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s perhaps no surprise that the shaky economy would give one pause before starting a family. Government estimates show it takes an average of more than $245,000 to raise a child. But another particular finding was the shape the birth decline took along racial lines. Among whites, the greatest decline in the birth rate was seen linked to declining marriage rates, while among Hispanics and blacks the majority of the decline was seen among nonmarried women.

“Although the three racial and ethnic groups show distinct differences in the sources of their fertility decline, they also have much in common. For all three groups, the recession has accelerated a long-term decline in the proportion of married women in their twenties,” researchers said.

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2 thoughts on “Babies or bust? What new data on millennial birth rates means for the future

  1. Eileen Beal

    I don’t think you can pin the WHOLE reason for the decline in birth rates on the recession.

    Millennials also “came of age” during a period of time of increased divorce and decoupling (of those not married); increased competition for all resources, not just jobs; a sociocultural revolution that took the stigma out of same sex coupling for all (not just wealthy whites and/or those in the arts); and the decline (disappearance some would say) of the nuclear family.

    E. Beal

  2. Pingback: Love, marriage and millennials – one more look at fertility | Association of Health Care Journalists

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