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Has the recession brought the US birth rate down?

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The US birth rate appears to have gone down 2% in 2008, according to the government. That’s more than 70,000 fewer babies than expected.

The figure is not quite firm, since lower immigration could also explain why the birth rate did not increase for the first time since the turn of the millennium.

The experts are saying that the poor economy is a possible explanation. Although as I do the math it’s clear that would mean lots of women decided against pregnancy for financial reasons as early as the first half of 2007–a time when even few experts foresaw that we were headed over a cliff.

So I’m wondering, could decisions about childbearing be a leading indicator of an economic downturn? Monitoring the actual birth rate would come too late to help with forecasting because we are just getting the 2008 data now, when the worst already appears to be easing a bit.

But it might make sense to track behavior that figures into the initial decision not to get pregnant–number of contraceptive prescriptions, for example. Or Plan B purchases. Or possibly condom buying, although the increasing (I hope!) use of condoms for disease prevention would muddy that data.

Do you suppose tracking marriage rates might be useful, even though marriage and having babies are no longer inextricably linked? Sales of bridal gowns? Business ups and downs of wedding planners? Or, here’s a thought, could sales of bridesmaid dresses and rates of shoe-dying turn out to be a leading economic indicator?

Thanx to Allison Bond over at 80Beats, who rounded up some news items about the birth rate data.

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