It has been eight years since the bottom of the Great Recession, yet its ramifications have shown to be wide-reaching, including exacerbating the decline in the rate of fertility in the United States.
In 2016, population growth in the U.S. totaled 0.7%, the lowest rate of growth since the Great Depression. Eight states reported a decline in population growth. The rate of births has been on a steady decline since 1957, the peak of the Baby Boomer generation.
At that time, the fertility rate reached a high of 123 births per 1,000 women. Today, that rate is 59.8 births, a 51% decline from those 1957 highs.
Interestingly, this phenomenon is continuing even as the Millennial generation, defined most generally as people born between 1981 and 2000, has surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest generation within the U.S. population. The Millennial generation age range is currently 16-36 and this age segment corresponds to when most people have children. Eighty-five percent of births are from mothers aged 34 or younger.
So this begs the question: Why is the fertility rate not beginning to show improvement?
For one, birth rates are positively correlated with an individual’s perception of future financial security. The financial crisis caused a steeper decline in the birth rate within the U.S. It has been well publicized that this economic recovery has been the weakest on record and quite bifurcated. Despite what the stock market might indicate, many have not yet felt financially secure enough to start a family.
Second, Millennials are exhibiting a different set of values relative to the generations before them. With a premium placed on individuality, experiences, and mobility, Millennials seemingly are opting to maximize the freedom afforded to them in their 20s and 30s. As a result, the proportion of Millennials getting married and starting a family is much lower than any previous generation. The mountain of student loan debt in the U.S. and an increasingly competitive job environment are also likely contributing to Millennials deferring the prospect of having children.
The cost of having a child is likely part of the equation as well. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently estimated that the average cost of raising a child totals $233,610. This cost estimate only includes expenditures through the age of 17, such as housing, food, and child care, leaving out the most expensive component of raising a child for many Americans: college. The cost of attending college for four years can vary widely, of course, depending on the location (in-state or out-of-state), the impact of scholarships, and whether the university is public or private. On average, attending college for four years can run $80,000 for a public school and more than $180,000 for a private one.
Even assuming a full-ride scholarship or no secondary education at all, the cost of raising a child is equivalent to an additional $13,000 expense per year, and I think most parents would say that this is dramatically underestimating the true cost. Just a teen’s smartphone bill alone can total more than $1,000 a year.
I think there are reasons to believe that the birth rate decline in the U.S. could soon reverse. With the current bulge in the Millennial population, there are now a greater number of individuals reaching the peak age for starting a family. And with the economy on stable footing for the last several years, the strength in employment levels, and high consumer confidence, Millennials’ outlook on their futures should begin to brighten. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a short-term pop in the birth rate. My bet is that we will be “growing” more children. Futures on babies should be trading higher, and the next several years could witness bumper crops.