Recession to blame for women having fewer kids?

New figures release that Germany continues to shrink fast. Fertility rates in Europe’s biggest economy have plummeted to a historic low. The number of births declined to 665.126 in 2009, the lowest level since 1945. However, Germany is no isolated case. Birth rates in the U.S. fell 2% in 2008, the biggest drop in nearly four decades, and that trend is expected to continue.

A new study out from the Guttmacher Institute suggests that the economic recession may be to blame for fertility decline, as women factor economic anxieties into their decision about having children.

As  kids are expensive, they represent a large economic investment and in the US,  birth rates have historically fluctuated with the economy — the U.S. experienced significant dips during the Great Depression and in the inflationary years of the 1970s.

Researchers at the Guttmacher Institute, a research nonprofit that focuses on reproductive health, surveyed 947 US women between the ages of 18 and 34 who have household incomes under $75,000. More than 4 in 10 said the economy was affecting their decision about having children. The women reported waiting to get pregnant later than they had planned, deciding to have fewer children or opting for medical sterilization to prevent future pregnancies. A majority of the women surveyed (52%) said their financial situation had worsened in the past year, and they were most likely to make their family-planning decisions on the basis of economic concerns.

For these economically vulnerable women, the cost of having a baby would further shake their already precarious financial footing. Three-quarters of them (77%) agreed with the statement “With the economy the way it is, I can’t afford to have a baby right now.” And while the cost of raising a child may already be prohibitive for many, others fear the consequences of pregnancy in an unstable job market. Close to half of the women who are currently employed said they worried about taking time off from work for medical appointments, which increase in frequency throughout pregnancy. If a woman is unsure whether she will have the same job in nine months, she may be hesitant to get pregnant for fear of losing or switching insurance plans.

But while anxiety about the economy has led some women to become more strict about their birth control use, the recession has forced others to take more risk. Among women who use birth control pills, 18% reported skipping pills, skipping months or waiting to get a prescription filled in order to save money. All of these practices render ineffective the Pill’s use as a contraceptive, and yet a quarter of women who are financially worse off than last year reported inconsistent use of birth control. At the same time, national abortion rates continue to fall, and are now at a 30-year low.

One consequence of these makeshift financial strategies, says Sharon Camp, president of the Guttmacher Institute, could be a further widening of the birth rate between wealthier women and the working poor. “Those who can afford better methods with a big upfront cost — like IUDs or vasectomies — may see pregnancy rates continue to fall,” says Camp. “But among lower-income women, a third of them are saying that they can’t afford the contraception they’d like to use. They’re relying on less effective, over-the-counter methods. We could likely see an increase for them in unintended pregnancies.”
Source:  Time Magazine article 1Time Magazine article 2

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