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Global Economic Crisis Affects Fertility Rates

June 29, 2011

A decline in Europe’s and the United States’ fertility rates is believed to have been caused by the global economic recession of 2008-2009, according to a new study.

Researchers report that the decline signals an end to the first concerted rise in fertility rates in the developed world since the 1960s.

Researchers from the Vienna Institute of Demography of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (VID) and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) identify that economic recessions tend to be followed by a decline in fertility rates ““ and also identify how specific groups of people are influenced by a recession.

Researchers found that reactions to the recession are varied by sex, age, number of children, education level and migrant status.

“We have noted some specific patterns of behavior; the young and the childless, for example, are less likely to have children during recessions,” one of the study’s authors Tomas Sobotka of the VID says.

He adds, “Highly educated women react to employment uncertainty by adopting a “postponement strategy,” especially if they are childless.”

“In contrast, less-educated women often maintain or increase their fertility under economic uncertainty.”

The study found that trends for men are very different. Less-educated men with low skills have a difficult time finding a partner or supporting their family and are often shown to have the largest decline in first child birth rates.

In addition, the study found that out of the 27 European Union countries, 26 countries experienced fertility rate increases in 2008, with a stagnation in Luxemburg.

2009 showed a decline in fertility rates in as many as 13 countries, while another four countries had a stable fertility rate.

A key factor behind these trends is a rise in unemployment and employment uncertainty. Furthermore, the study suggests that cuts in social spending caused by the need to “address ballooning budget deficits may prolong the fertility impact of the recent recession well beyond its end.”

The most developed countries, which were hit the hardest in the recession, were the main focus of the study.

A sudden trend reversal from the previous pattern of rising fertility rates since the 1970s recession is linked to the 2008-2009 global recession, especially in Spain and the United States. The study also found that a larger group of countries such as Ireland, England and Wales, Italy and Ukraine experienced fertility rate stagnation after a decade of rising fertility after 1998.

The study can be found in the June 27 issue of Population and Development Review.

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