The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

America’s baby bust

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Call them the missing recession babies. Births across the nation took a tumble during the economic downturn, and both the number of births and the birth rate have not recovered much since 2007. This small reverse baby boom will leave a faint but lasting dent on America’s population pyramid: Expect kindergartens to be a little less crowded in the next couple of years, Little League rosters a bit more condensed.

The recession, of course, did not have an impact on every state to the same degree. Places like Arizona saw the biggest leaps in the unemployment rate, and, correspondingly, the biggest drop in the rate of babies being born. Likewise, states that weathered the recession well, like North Dakota and Alaska, did not see much in the way of falling birth rates.

Younger women, especially those in their early 20s, had the biggest declines in childbearing. This is in line with a long-term cultural shift. Young Americans are taking longer to settle down and start families, and the average age of motherhood has been rising along with the average age of first marriage. This recession, which has been especially hard on millennials, sharpened these trends. If you’re unemployed and living with your parents, how can you have a baby?

If recent history is any measure, the dip will be temporary. The recessions in the early ’70s and early ’90s also shocked the birth rate, which in both cases fell quickly but slowly rose again. That’s what recessions do: They delay the decision to have a baby. As soon as things start to look up, the crib and the car seat will follow.