There's a reason why "boom times" and "baby boom" both contain an onomatopoeic signifier of the procreative act. In developed countries, fertility rates tend to go up and down with GDP.
What does that mean in real terms? A study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Princeton researchers Janet Currie and Hannes Schwandt quantifies just how many fewer babies were born because of the Great Recession. Their answer: at least a half a million.
For the study, the authors analyzed approximately 140 million individual birth records for all births in the United States from 1975 and 2010. They found that, for a group of 1,000 women aged 20 to 24, each percentage-point increase in the national unemployment rate resulted in 14 fewer children conceived—total, for the 1,000 women—over the course of their lifetimes. In the scheme of things, this is a relatively small effect, accounting for just .7 percent of all of the women's pregnancies. But it's not nothing: The shift meant that about five additional women in that cohort remained childless forever.
That is to say, it's not that these women are simply having babies later. The recession seems to have dampened their baby-making prospects for their entire lives.
When multiplied across the entire population of 20-to-24-year-old women, this economic baby slump is fairly substantial. There are 9.2 million U.S.-born women in that age group, and the unemployment rate went up by 3.22 percent during the recession. The authors say this will result in "a long-term loss of 420,957 conceptions (and 426,850 live births) among affected cohorts, a 2.4 percent decrease in completed fertility. This long-term effect ... is driven largely by women who remain childless."