When times are tough, women put off having babies. That makes sense. Kids are expensive. And when the economy rebounds, you might expect the number of new mothers to follow. They’ve just put off having kids.
But the decision to have a child is different for women in their early 20s who are caught in the economic doldrums, according to a new Princeton University study. These young women were more likely to remain childless through age 40, even when the economy returns to health.
The study estimated an additional 151,000 women who were ages 20-24 in 2008, at the start of the Great Recession, will decide to remain childless through age 40. That’s an 8.9 percent increase in the historical rate of childlessness, the researchers found.
“We find it remarkable that changes in macroeconomic conditions in young adulthood have such a profound effect on an individual woman’s future life,” wrote authors Janet Currie and Hannes Schwandt in the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Currie said in an interview the recession’s effects on fertility is subtle, but significant. She said the finding recalled other studies showing young men and women entering the job market during a recession often faced lower lifetime earnings.
The shadow of even fleeting economic troubles can be very long.
The Princeton study found that a single percentage point jump in the national unemployment rate when women are age 20-24 reduces not only short-term fertility, but also long-term decisions about having children.
But Currie said there could be a potential upside to more young women deciding to remain childless.
“Maybe we’ll have more women CEOS,” she said.