The most dramatic impact was on birth rates, which dropped precipitously, especially for young women, as a result of the economic crisis. How can that be known? First, the timing of the fertility decline is very suggestive. After increasing steadily from the beginning of 2002 until late 2007, birth rates dropped sharply. (The decline has since slowed for some groups after 2010, but the U.S. still saw record-low birth rates for teenagers and women ages 20-24 as late as 2012.)
Second, the decline in fertility was steeper in states with greater increases in unemployment. Although data doesn't exist to determine which couple did or did not have a child in response to economic changes, this pattern supports the idea that financial concerns convinced some people to not have a child.
That interpretation is supported by the third trend: The fertility drop was more pronounced among younger women—and there was no drop at all among women over 40. That may mean the fertility decline represents births postponed by families that intend to have children later—an option older women may not have—which fits previous research on economic shocks.
It seems likely that people who are on the fence about having a baby can be swayed by perceived financial hardship or uncertainty. From research on 27 European countries, it's known that people with troubled family financial situations are more likely to say they are unsure whether they will meet their stated childbearing goals—that is, economic uncertainty doesn’t change their familial aims but may increase uncertainty in whether they will be met.
However, some births delayed inevitably become births foregone. Based on the effect of unemployment on birth rates in earlier periods, it appears a substantial number of young women who postponed births will end up never having children. By one estimate, women who were in their early 20s during the Great Recession are projected to have some 400,000 fewer lifetime births and an additional 1.5% of them will never have a birth.
In the case of divorce, the pattern is counter-intuitive. Although economic hardship and insecurity adds stress to relationships and increases the risk of divorce, the overall divorce rate usually drops when unemployment rates rise.
Researchers believe that, like births, people postpone divorces during economic crises because of the costs of divorcing—not just legal fees, but also housing transitions (which were especially difficult in the Great Recession) and employment disruptions.
My own research found that there was a sharp drop in the divorce rate in 2009 that can reasonably be attributed to the recession. But, as is suspected will be the case with births, there appears to have been a divorce-rate rebound in the years that followed.
Family violence has become much less common since the 1990s. The reasons are not entirely clear, but they certainly include the overall drop in violent crime, improved response from social-service and non-governmental organizations, and improvements in women’s relative economic status. However, when the recession hit there was a spike in intimate-partner violence, coinciding with the sharp rise in men’s unemployment rates. (More on that here.)