- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 18, 2009

The year 2009 is proving to be a baby-bust period in the nation’s history as new data show that many couples are now either waiting or dialing down their hopes to start or enlarge their family.

Demographers report that the ongoing recession may send the nation’s birthrate into a nose dive. Although states report vital statistics differently and some data are unavailable for 2009, there is increasing evidence that money woes may have kept couples from expanding their families as concern over job security and finances has mounted over the past year.

“It may well be that couples saw it coming,” said Carl Haub, a senior demographer at the Washington-based Population Reference Bureau, who has tracked shifts in birthrates as influenced by the economy.

With record unemployment and job losses, the bursting of the housing bubble and a mass of foreclosures, along with sagging consumer confidence, some measures are pointing to a significant drop in the birthrate, perhaps greater than historic declines marked by the Great Depression in the 1930s and the oil-fueled recession of the 1970s, he said.

“I think we are starting to see something,” he said, adding that new birthrate figures from 2009, for example, show a 7 percent dip in Arizona and a 5 percent drop in Missouri.

“Seven percent is actually very significant,” he said of the Arizona figure. “It does seem that we are starting to see that first little edge of a trend.”

A survey released in September by the Guttmacher Institute found that 64 percent of low- and middle-income women said “no” to having another child because they couldn’t afford it.

The study, “A Real-Time Look at the Impact of the Recession on Women’s Family Planning and Pregnancy Decisions,” was conducted in July and August and surveyed 1,000 women between the ages of 18 and 39. It found that more than one out of four women or their partners had lost health insurance or jobs over the past year. Of those concerned about finances, nearly a third said they were now more careful about using birth control.

It also found that women were skimping on monthly birth-control pills or seeking less expensive forms of contraception or none at all in order to save money. One in four women surveyed have delayed a trip to the gynecologist, and the same proportion said they were having a tougher time paying for birth control in the past year.

Erin Mallants Rodriguez, a mother of two who is expecting her third child in November, said she and her husband could afford to have another child because they moved from Miami to Texas. If they’d stayed in South Florida, where they both grew up, “we could never have done this.”

“With the high cost of living there and the economy, we were always in the red,” said Mrs. Rodriguez, 33, a former television producer who now lives in San Antonio, where she said the cost of living is less expensive.

“For us, being in Miami and having more kids was out of the question,” she said. “I think we were really lucky that we moved and that made a third child possible, but I can definitely see why this recession would make some women think” about expanding their families.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 2007 saw a record national birthrate increase to more than 4,317,119 births. Provisional data from the center’s National Vital Statistics Report showed 3,898,000 births from January through November of 2008, down from 3,959,000 from the same time period in 2007. More current data was not yet available, the CDC said.

In Virginia, the Department of Health reported 108,417 live births for 2007 with a preliminary count of 105,179 for 2008. In Maryland, health department statistics showed 78,057 births in 2007 and 77,252 births in a preliminary report for 2008.

Intercountry adoptions also declined in recent years. According the U.S. State Department’s Web site, 19,613 children were adopted from foreign countries in fiscal year 2007, while only 17,438 adoptions occurred in fiscal year 2008.

Historically, times of economic hardship have sent birthrates falling. In the 1930s, Mr. Haub said, birthrates hit their lowest point in history, at 2.1 children per woman. They slowly increased during the Baby Boom years after World War II.

Then, with the rise of feminism in the 1960s, improvements in birth control, and abortion becoming widely available in the wake of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court, birthrates started to tank. That, coupled with high inflation and the oil crisis, sent the birthrate to historic lows again, to 1.7 children in 1976.

“It’s never been that low again,” he said.

But news on the current birthrate decline isn’t all grim. “I don’t think this is universal,” Mr. Haub said.

In some families, when a wife is laid off, it is seen as a perfect time to have another child, and some are doing just that. “If they have insurance, then why not use that time to have another baby,” Mr. Haub said.

Because families in the U.S. have become more transient, some traveling far from where they were raised for new and better jobs, the tight economy also may make paying for child care tougher - yet another reason some may hold off on having children, he said.

“One of the things that makes it a little harder to have a child is that so many of us move away,” he said. “Grandma has to fly to visit. She doesn’t live down the street anymore. And that has a big effect in that you have to replace that with some fairly expensive child care.

“A lot of people are going to come through this just fine, but I think we are starting to see those who have put off a decision outnumber those who have decided to go ahead.”

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