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Does Economic Crisis Affect Fertility Levels?

The role played by the Great Recession in Europe and the United States

What kind of impact does economic growth have on fertility behaviours? Previous research has observed downturns in fertility during periods of economic depression and when looking specifically at the Great Depression in the United States in the late 1920s and 1930s, research found that it had strong negative effects on fertility levels. But what about the more recent recession?

Building on earlier research, Chiara Ludovica Comolli looks at 31 European countries and the United States over the period of 2000-2013 to see what kind of impact the Great Recession had on fertility levels. Comolli analysed total, female and youth unemployment rates, and used several indicators of economic uncertainty.

In the countries she analysed, 22 out of the 32 countries experienced a decline in fertility rates between 2008 and 2013 in comparison to previous years. This decline was influenced by changes in the economy and in the labour market participation of individuals.

Through her analysis, she found that the largest negative impact of the crisis has been on very young women (15-19-year-old women), followed by women in their late 30s. Interestingly, Comolli shows that female unemployment discourages childbearing even more strongly than general unemployment. She also found women in their 20s and 30s have a similar decline in fertility and women in their early forties tend to delay second and third births when female unemployment rises.

Turning to education, fertility rates among middle-educated women does decline when unemployment rates rise, while low-educated women do not seem to experience a change in fertility rates. For highly educated women, they are not as affected by increases in general unemployment, but they are more impacted when youth and female unemployment rises.

Overall, the structural conditions of the economy were found to be strong predictors of fertility rates. The strong association between increases in female unemployment and declines in fertility rates contradicts the idea that women use periods outside of the labour market to have children.

Author(s) of the original publication: 
Emily Lines