Are low fertility rates tied to loss of manufacturing jobs?

The Great Recession of 2008-2009 wiped out nearly nine million jobs and 19 trillion dollars in wealth from U.S. households. According to research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, it also led to a steep decline in the number of children born.

And even though employment eventually climbed and wages rose, fertility rates for American women did not. In fact, they have continued to decline in the years since the recession ended and reached an all-time low of 1.7 children per woman in 2018. While previous research showed that economic recoveries tend to restore fertility rates, scientists wondered why the Great Recession did not.

The new research, led by sociologist Nathan Seltzer, found a link between the long-term decline in manufacturing jobs during the Great Recession and lower fertility. This link was strongest among Hispanic women, because a larger number of them work in goods-producing industries than do women from other racial or ethnic groups. Manufacturing business activity was a stronger predictor of fertility than the unemployment rate was for all racial groups.

“These structural trends are driving this increased financial precarity and influencing women and couple’s decisions to have children,” says Seltzer, who published his findings in the journal Demography. “Metro areas that experienced steeper declines in goods-producing businesses were more likely to experience steeper declines in fertility rates.”

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