Skip to content

US: Great Recession's Effects on Fertility

Study: Beyond the Great Recession: Labor Market Polarization and Ongoing Fertility Decline in the United States

The U.S. Great Recession (2007-2009) was more than an economic crisis. It spurred a lasting shift in fertility trends, leading to historically low birth rates. This study delves into the persisting decline in fertility rates, despite post-recession improvements in unemployment rates and median household income. The focus is on deep structural changes in the labor market and their implications.


  • Economic Impact of the Great Recession: The recession saw the U.S. losing 8.8 million jobs, with the unemployment rate peaking at 9.5%. The economic turmoil wiped out approximately $19.2 trillion in U.S. household wealth.
  • Post-Recession Fertility Trends: Contrary to expectations of recovery post-recession, fertility rates have continually plummeted, reaching record lows.

Key Findings

  • Structural Changes in Labor Markets: A major finding is a shift from goods-producing to service sectors, termed “labor market polarization.” This has extended financial uncertainty, profoundly influencing decisions around childbearing.
  • Racial and Ethnic Impacts: The study highlights that the decline in goods-producing industries disproportionately affects Hispanic and Black communities compared to White and Asian populations.
  • Local Variation in Economic Conditions: The study underscores the importance of examining local, metropolitan-level labor markets. These areas show significant variation in economic conditions and job opportunities within states, impacting fertility trends.

In-Depth Analysis

  • Data and Methodology: Utilizing a combination of statistical data, survey information, and vital registration records, the study analyzes trends from the early 1990s to the present, with a focus on 2006-2014.
  • Key Observations: It notes a decline in middle-skill, middle-income jobs and an increase in low- and high-skill service sector positions.
  • Driving Factors: Structural changes in labor markets, rather than just cyclical economic conditions, are identified as key drivers in the declining fertility rates.

Detailed Insights

  • Ongoing Shifts in Labor Market Composition: The study proposes that ongoing shifts in the U.S. labor market composition are causing prolonged financial uncertainty, affecting decisions about childbearing.
  • Challenge to Prevailing Views: It challenges the traditional view that fertility rates are primarily influenced by short-term economic cycles.

Racial and Ethnic Implications

  • Disproportionate Impact on Hispanic Fertility: Hispanic fertility is substantially more responsive to the loss of goods-producing businesses.
  • Historical Inequalities and Labor Market Stratification: The study underscores how historical inequalities and labor market stratification have led to distinct fertility responses among different racial and ethnic groups during economic downturns.

Local Geographic Focus

  • Importance of Local Areas: Emphasizing local geographic areas, specifically metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), the study points to significant variation in economic conditions and job opportunities within states.
  • Influence of Social Networks: The importance of local social networks in shaping family and fertility decision-making is highlighted.


  • Structural Factors Versus Cyclical Fluctuations: The study concludes that structural economic factors, particularly labor market polarization, have a more substantial impact on declining fertility rates than short-term unemployment fluctuations.
  • Broader Implications for Demographic Research: These findings highlight the need for demographic research to consider long-term economic processes when understanding U.S. fertility trends.

Further Considerations

  • Long-Term Structural Changes: The study discusses the implications of long-term structural changes in U.S. labor markets since the 1980s. The gradual disappearance of middle-skill, middle-income jobs and the rise of service sector positions have reshaped the economic opportunities available to workers, especially those without a college degree.
  • Differential Impact Across Age Groups: The study also explores how these changes have differently impacted various age groups in terms of fertility. Notably, younger women seem to be delaying childbirth more significantly than older women.
  • Policy Implications: The findings suggest that addressing declining fertility rates may require more than short-term economic fixes. Policymakers may need to consider structural labor market reforms and support systems that address the deeper causes of financial uncertainty and its impact on family planning.

Looking Ahead:

  • Future Research Directions: The study opens up avenues for future research, particularly in understanding individual-level decisions in the context of broader economic trends. It also calls for a focus on nonmetropolitan and rural areas, which have also experienced significant declines in goods-producing industries.
  • Societal Implications: Understanding these fertility trends is crucial, as they have profound implications for social policies, economic planning, and the future demographic landscape of the U.S.