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Recessions cause long-term decreases in fertility rates in the United States, according to a recent study done by researchers at the University.

The team, led by co-authors Wilson School professor and director of the Center for Health and WellbeingJanet Currie and postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Health and WellbeingHannes Schwandt, analyzed 140 million U.S. birth records from the Vital Statistics of the United States public database. The researchers grouped mothers by age and state of birth and tracked the fertility rates of these groups between 1975 and 2010.

Schwandt explained that some women may choose to postpone having children during an economic recession, and that there is a well-established correlation between high unemployment and low fertility. However, he added, many women do not end up having the children they postpone.

One of the main findings in the research was that there is a certain time spanfor women to marry and start a family. If they miss that window, it is less likely that they will settle down later in life, Schwandt said.

“In response to a recession, [some women] stay childless, so they’re missingthe first child during the recession," Schwandt said."Then they grow older, but then they’re alsomissing the second child and the third child. This means that over time, there aremore and more babies missing.”

The researchers also found that a common reason women choose to postpone partnership and marriage during a recession is the lessened economic attractiveness of men.

“The income of men is depressed permanently, so they are less [desirable] partners,” Schwandt said.

Currie said that when there are fewer children than expected, there are eventual impacts on public finance, the pension system and other economic sectors.

The results of the study are useful to many different areas of research.

“It’s important if you’re interested in population growth, or [in] the ability of people to fulfill their desires of how many kids they want to have,” said Alícia Adserà, a Wilson School professor and faculty associate of the University's Office of Population Research.

The findings may also be helpful to nations that are concerned with boosting their fertility rates.

“In countries where they are considering those types of measures, they might find that this is useful information,” Currie said.

Schwandt said that he believes this research might affect women on an individual basis.

“It’s important for people to know these results ... and to know that if you’re in a [recession], the choice not to have children might not ... be a postponement, but ... something permanent,” he said.

Ideally, Schwandt said, their research will educate people on how personally the recession can affect them, and what to look out for.

“I think what might change is that younger generations might see the experiences of these women, and I hope our research kind of informs women about this,” he said.

The study was published on Sept. 29 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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