Economic Recession and Fertility in the Developed World
Version of Record online: 22 JUN 2011
© 2011 The Population Council, Inc.
Population and Development Review
Volume 37, Issue 2, pages 267–306, June 2011
How to Cite
Sobotka, T., Skirbekk, V. and Philipov, D. (2011), Economic Recession and Fertility in the Developed World. Population and Development Review, 37: 267–306. doi: 10.1111/j.1728-4457.2011.00411.x
- Issue online: 22 JUN 2011
- Version of Record online: 22 JUN 2011
This article reviews research on the effects of economic recessions on fertility in the developed world. We study how economic downturns, as measured by various indicators, especially by declining GDP levels, falling consumer confdence, and rising unemployment, were found to affect fertility. We also discuss particular mechanisms through which the recession may have influenced fertility behavior, including the effects of economic uncertainty, falling income, changes in the housing market, and rising enrollment in higher education, and also factors that influence fertility indirectly such as declining marriage rates. Most studies find that fertility tends to be pro-cyclical and often rises and declines with the ups and downs of the business cycle. Usually, these aggregate effects are relatively small (typically, a few percentage points) and of short durations; in addition they often influence especially the timing of childbearing and in most cases do not leave an imprint on cohort fertility levels. Therefore, major long-term fertility shifts often continue seemingly uninterrupted during the recession—including the fertility declines before and during the Great Depression of the 1930s and before and during the oil shock crises of the 1970s. Changes in the opportunity costs of childbearing and fertility behavior during economic downturn vary by sex, age, social status, and number of children; childless young adults are usually most affected. Furthermore, various policies and institutions may modify or even reverse the relationship between recessions and fertility. The first evidence pertaining to the recent recession falls in line with these findings. In most countries, the recession has brought a decline in the number of births and fertility rates, often marking a sharp halt to the previous decade of rising fertility rates.