As the Economy Goes, So Goes Birth Rates: Fewer Babies Born Since Recession

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Goldmund Lukic

It seems like more than just coincidence that the birth rate and the overall number of births in the U.S. have sharply declined since the beginning of the recession.

The Pew Research Center just released a study demonstrating how closely the downturn in births and the economy are linked. In 2007, there was a record high number of babies born in the U.S.: 4,316,233. Since then, each year has seen a decline in births, even at the same time that the overall population has risen.

In 2008, the total number of births tallied at approximately 4.25 million. Preliminary data indicates that births dropped further in the years that followed, to 4.13 million in 2009, and 4.01 million in 2010. Naturally, there’s been a similar decline in the fertility rate: For every 1,000 women of childbearing age, there were 69.6 births in 2007, compared to what looks like 66.7 births in 2009 and 64.7 births in 2010.

(MORE: Survey: The Frugal ‘New Normal’ Has Become the Norm)

While fertility rates dropped for women of all races and ethnicities in the U.S. over the past few years, the sharpest decreases occurred among women of color. From 2008 to 2009, birth rates declined by 1.6% among white women, compared to 2.4% for African Americans and 5.9% for Hispanics.

By no small coincidence, Hispanics and African Americans are the two groups to have suffered the most during the recession years. From 2005 to 2009, according to a recent study, inflation-adjusted median wealth dropped 16% among whites, compared to 53% among African Americans and 66% among Hispanics.

(MORE: The Sad, Sorry State of the Middle Class)

In what may be a related phenomenon, a separate study found that teens are more likely to use condoms nowadays. That gibes with the spike in condom sales that coincided with the onset of the recession.

Teens are also less likely to be having sex than they were not long ago. (Or at least that’s their story, and they’re sticking to it.) In 1988, 51% of non-married girls ages 15 to 19 said they’d had sexual intercourse, compared to 43% in the latest survey, conducted from 2006 to 2010. As for boys in the same age group, 60% said they had sex in 1988, compared to 42% more recently.

Also interesting: As my colleague at Curious Capitalist pointed out, another study explores the relationship between housing prices and birth rates. It’d be reasonable to assume that birth rates go down as housing prices go up—because if houses cost a fortune, there’s less money left over for the raising of children. Actually, just the opposite is true: From 1990 to 2005, birth rates and housing prices are highly correlated, meaning that they rose and fell mostly in unison. Of course, housing prices generally rise when the economy’s doing well—and would-be parents are more likely to have kids when the outlook of the housing market and the economy appear to be strong.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.