In the years since the Great Recession, social scientists have anticipated that economic recovery in the United States, characterized by gains in employment and median household income, would augur a reversal of declining fertility trends. However, the expected post-recession rebound in fertility rates has yet to materialize. In this study, I propose an economic explanation for why fertility rates have continued to decline regardless of improvements in conventional economic indicators. I argue that ongoing structural changes in U.S. labor markets have prolonged the financial uncertainty that leads women and couples to delay or forgo childbearing. Combining statistical and survey data with restricted-use vital registration records, I examine how cyclical and structural changes in metropolitan-area labor markets were associated with changes in total fertility rates (TFRs) across racial/ethnic groups from the early 1990s to the present day, with a particular focus on the 2006–2014 period. The findings suggest that changes in industry composition—specifically, the loss of manufacturing and other goods-producing businesses—have a larger effect on TFRs than changes in the unemployment rate for all racial/ethnic groups. Because structural changes in labor markets are more likely to be sustained over time—in contrast to unemployment rates, which fluctuate with economic cycles—further reductions in unemployment are unlikely to reverse declining fertility trends.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
I additionally estimate models using a data set that extends from 1991 to 2014, which relies on 82.3 million birth certificate records.
To account for comparability issues between SIC and NAICS industry classification codes in the extended period analysis (1991–2014), I construct an analogous domain-level grouping of SIC codes for CBP data between 1991 and 1997.
Because PUMAs are nested within states rather than within counties, MSA-level estimates have errors of commission and omission in which areas outside the MSA are included or areas within the MSA are not included, respectively. Most MSAs have a combined error of less than 0.1 % or less than 4.9 %, but 44 MSAs have an error of 5.0 % to 9.9 %, and 40 have an error of 10 % to 14.9 %. In other words, 296 MSAs have less than a 5 % geographic boundary error. In this analysis, I make the plausible assumptions that (1) the outlying geographic areas of MSAs are not excessively biasing the overall MSA population averages, and (2) subpopulation averages in outlying areas of MSAs are similar whether they happen to be immediately inside or outside the MSA boundary.
I conceptualize these fixed characteristics as aspects of geography, climate, city-specific cultural norms and mores, shared history, and place-specific socioeconomic and class distributions. To be sure, these metropolitan-area characteristics do change over time; but given the relatively brief period of analysis, I make the plausible assumption that metropolitan areas maintain a fixed set of social, cultural, and built-environment characteristics.
Kothari et al. (2013) noted that geographic mobility declined throughout the years of the Great Recession. For the geographic mobility that did occur, labor migration during the Great Recession varied for low- and high-skilled workers as well as across foreign-born and non-foreign-born workers (Cadena and Kovak 2016). In-migration from Mexico, for instance, decreased as a result of economic disruption to the construction and manufacturing sectors in the United States (Calnan and Painter 2017; Villarreal 2014).
Because the labor market measures and covariates are lagged by one year to approximate economic conditions at the time of conception, the prerecession/recession period (2006–2010) aligns with economic conditions in 2005–2009, and the post-recession period (2011–2014) aligns with economic conditions in 2010–2013.
County-level CBP data on industry composition are available from 1986 onward; however, county-level LAUS data are available from 1990 onward.
Abel, J. R., & Deitz, R. (2012). Job polarization and rising inequality in the nation and the New York–Northern New Jersey region. Current Issues in Economics and Finance (Second District Highlights), 18(7), 1–7.
Acemoglu, D., & Autor, D. (2011). Skills, tasks and technologies: Implications for employment and earnings. In O. Ashenfelter & D. Card (Eds.), Handbook of labor economics (Vol. 4B, pp. 1043–1171). Amsterdam, the Netherlands: North-Holland.
Allison, P. D. (2009). Fixed effects regression models (Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences Series No. 07-160). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Arai, L. (2007). Peer and neighbourhood influences on teenage pregnancy and fertility: Qualitative findings from research in English communities. Health & Place, 13, 87–98.
Autor, D. (2010). The polarization of job opportunities in the U.S. labor market: Implications for employment and earnings (Joint report for the Center for American Progress and the Hamilton Project). Retrieved from https://economics.mit.edu/files/5554
Autor, D. H., & Dorn, D. (2013). The growth of low-skill service jobs and the polarization of the US labor market. American Economic Review, 103, 1553–1597.
Autor, D. H., Dorn, D., & Hanson, G. H. (2017). When work disappears: Manufacturing decline and the falling marriage-market value of men (NBER Working Paper 23173). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.
Autor, D. H., Katz, L. F., & Kearney, M. S. (2006). The polarization of the U.S. labor market. American Economic Review: Papers & Proceedings, 96, 189–194.
Balbo, N., & Barban, N. (2014). Does fertility behavior spread among friends? American Sociological Review, 79, 412–431.
Balbo, N., Billari, F. C., & Mills, M. (2013). Fertility in advanced societies: A review of research. European Journal of Population/Revue Européenne de Démographie, 29, 1–38.
Becker, G. S. (1960). An economic analysis of fertility. In Universities-National Bureau (Ed.), Demographic and economic change in developed countries: A conference of the Universities-National Bureau Commitee for Economic Research (pp. 209–240). New York, NY: National Bureau of Economic Research.
Bernardi, L., & Klärner, A. (2014). Social networks and fertility. Demographic Research, 30, 641–670. https://doi.org/10.4054/DemRes.2014.30.22
Bongaarts, J. (1978). A framework for analyzing the proximate determinants of fertility. Population and Development Review, 4, 105–132.
Bongaarts, J., & Feeney, G. (1998). On the quantum and tempo of fertility. Population and Development Review, 24, 271–291.
Boonstra, H. D. (2014). What is behind the declines in teen pregnancy rates? Guttmacher Policy Review, 17(3), 15–21.
Bound, J., & Dresser, L. (1999). Losing ground: The erosion of the relative earnings of African American women during the 1980s. In I. Browne (Ed.), Latinas and African American women at work: Race, gender, and economic inequality (pp. 61–104). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
Brand, J. E., & Davis, D. (2012). The impact of college education on fertility: Evidence for heterogeneous effects. Demography, 48, 863–887.
Branum, A. M., & Jones, J. (2015). Trends in long-acting reversible contraception use among U.S. women aged 15–44 (NCHS Data Brief No. 188). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.
Brauner-Otto, S. R., & Geist, C. (2018). Uncertainty, doubts, and delays: Economic circumstances and childbearing expectations among emerging adults. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 39, 88–102.
Browne, I. (2000). Opportunities lost? Race, industrial restructuring, and employment among young women heading households. Social Forces, 78, 907–929.
Buckles, K., Hungerman, D., & Lugauer, S. (2018). Is fertility a leading economic indicator? (NBER Working Paper 24355). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.
Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). (2008). Labor force characteristics by race and ethnicity, 2007 (Report No. 1005). Washington, DC: BLS.
Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). (2012). The recession of 2007–2009 (BLS Spotlight on Statistics). Washington, DC: BLS.
Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). (2017). LNS14000000: Labor force statistics from the Current Population Survey [Data set]. Washington, DC: BLS.
Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), & U.S. Department of Labor. (2016, July 12). Number of people working part time for economic reasons falls in June 2016. TED: The Economics Daily. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2016/number-of-people-working-part-time-for-economic-reasons-falls-in-june-2016.htm
Butz, W. P., & Ward, M. P. (1979). The emergence of countercyclical U.S. fertility. American Economic Review, 69, 318–328.
Cadena, B. C., & Kovak, B. K. (2016). Immigrants equilibrate local labor markets: Evidence from the Great Recession. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 8(1), 257–290.
Calnan, R., & Painter, G. (2017). The response of Latino immigrants to the Great Recession: Occupational and residential (im)mobility. Urban Studies, 54, 2561–2291.
Catanzarite, L., & Aguilera, M. B. (2002). Working with co-ethnics: Earnings penalties for Latino immigrants at Latino jobsites. Social Problems, 49, 101–127.
Cherlin, A., Cumberworth, E., Morgan, S. P., & Wimer, C. (2013). The Effects of the Great Recession on family structure and fertility. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 650, 214–231.
Choi, K. (2014). Fertility in the context of Mexican migration to the United States: A case for incorporating the pre-migration fertility of immigrants. Demographic Research, 30, 703–738. https://doi.org/10.4054/DemRes.2014.30.24
Cohen, P. N. (2014). Recession and divorce in the United States, 2008–2011. Population Research and Policy Review, 33, 615–628.
Cohen, P. N., & Huffman, M. L. (2007). Black under-representation in management across U.S. labor markets. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 609, 181–199.
Couch, K. A., & Fairlie, R. (2010). Last hired, first fired? Black-white unemployment and the business cycle. Demography, 47, 227–247.
Cunningham, E. (2018). Great recession, great recovery? Trends from the Current Population Survey. Monthly Labor Review, April, 1–27.
Currie, J., & Schwandt, H. (2014). Short- and long-term effects of unemployment on fertility. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111, 14734–14739.
Ermisch, J. (1988). Economic influences on birth rates. National Institute Economic Review, 126, 71–92.
Finer, L. B., Jerman, J., & Kavanaugh, M. L. (2012). Changes in use of long-acting contraceptive methods in the United States, 2007–2009. Fertility and Sterility, 98, 893–897.
Finer, L. B., & Zolna, M. R. (2016). Declines in unintended pregnancy in the United States, 2008–2011. New England Journal of Medicine, 374, 843–852.
Flanagan, C., & Wilson, E. (2013). Home value and homeownership rates: Recession and post-recession comparisons from 2007–2009 to 2010–2012 (Amercian Community Survey Briefs Report Number ACSBR/12-20). Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.
Fletcher, J. M., & Polos, J. (2017). Nonmarital and teen fertility (IZA Discussion Papers No. 10833). Bonn, Germany: Institute of Labor Economics.
Goodman, C. J., & Mance, S. M. (2011). Employment loss and the 2007–09 recession: An overview. Monthly Labor Review, April, 3–12.
Hall, M., Crowder, K., & Spring, A. (2015). Neighborhood foreclosures, racial/ethnic transitions, and residential segregation. American Sociological Review, 80, 526–549.
Hamilton, B. E., & Kirmeyer, S. E. (2017). Trends and variations in reproduction and intrinsic rates: United States, 1990–2014 (National Vital Statistics Reports Vol. 66, No. 2). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.
Hamilton, B. E., Martin, J. A., Osterman, M. J. K., Driscoll, A. K., & Rossen, L. M. (2017). Births: Provisional data for 2016 (Vital Statistics Rapid Release No. 2). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.
Hamilton, B. E., Martin, J. A., Osterman, M. J. K., Driscoll, A. K., & Rossen, L. M. (2019). Births: Provisional data for 2017b (Vital Statistics Rapid Release No. 004). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.
Hamilton, B. E., & Sutton, P. D. (2012). Recent trends in births and fertility rates through June 2012 (Heath E-Stats). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/births_fertility_june_2012/births_june_2012.html
Hartmann, H., English, A., & Hayes, J. (2010). Women and men’s employment and unemployment in the Great Recession (IWPR Publication No. C373). Washington, DC: Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
Holder, M. (2017). African American men and the labor market during the Great Recession. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Holder, M. (2018). Revisiting Bergmann’s occupational crowding model. Review of Radical Political Economics, 50, 683–690.
Hout, M., & Cumberworth, E. (2012). The labor force and the Great Recession. Stanford, CA: Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality.
Jaimovich, N., & Siu, H. E. (2012). The trend is the cycle: Job polarization and jobless recoveries (NBER Working Paper No. 18334). Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.
Janoski, T., Luke, D., & Oliver, C. (2014). The causes of structural unemployment: Four factors that keep people from the jobs they deserve. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Jaret, C., Reid, L. W., & Adelman, R. M. (2003). Black-white income inequality and metropolitan socioeconomic structure. Journal of Urban Affairs, 25, 305–334.
Kalleberg, A. L. (2009). Precarious work, insecure workers: Employment relations in transition. American Sociological Review, 74, 1–22.
Kearney, M. S., & Wilson, R. (2018). Male earnings, marriageable men, and nonmarital fertility: Evidence from the fracking boom. Review of Economics and Statistics, 100, 678–690.
Kennedy, S., & Fitch, C. A. (2012). Measuring cohabitation and family structure in the United States: Assessing the impact of new data from the Current Population Survey. Demography, 49, 1479–1498.
Kmec, J. A. (2003). Minority job concentration and wages. Social Problems, 50, 38–59.
Kochhar, R. (2011). In two years of economic recovery, women lost jobs, men found them (Social and Demographic Trends report). Washington, DC: Pew Research Center.
Kothari, S., Saporta-Eksten, I., & Yu, E. (2013). The (un)importance of geographical mobility in the Great Recession. Review of Economic Dynamics, 16, 553–563.
Levine, M. V. (2012). Race and male employment in the wake of the great recession: Black male employment rates in Milwaukee and the nation’s largest metro areas 2010 (CED Publications No. 20). Milwaukee: Center for Economic Development, University of Wisconsin.
Lim, S. (2017). “Bad jobs” for marriage: Precarious work and the transition to first marriage. In A. L. Kalleberg & S. P. Vallas (Eds.), Precarious work (Research in the Sociology of Work Series) (Vol. 31, pp. 399–427). Bingley, UK: Emerald Publishing Limited.
Lindberg, L., Santelli, J., & Desai, S. (2016). Understanding the decline in adolescent fertility in the United States, 2007–2012. Journal of Adolescent Health, 59, 577–583.
Low, S. (2017, September 12). Manufacturing is relatively more important to the rural economy than the urban economy [Web blog]. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retrieved from https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2017/09/12/manufacturing-relatively-more-important-rural-economy-urban-economy
Martin, J. A., Hamilton, B. E., & Osterman, M. J. K. (2018). Births in the United States, 2017 (NCHS Data Brief No. 318). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.
Martin, J. A., Hamilton, B. E., Osterman, M. J. K. S., Driscoll, A. K., & Mathews, T. J. (2017). Births: Final data for 2015 (National Vital Statistics Reports Vol. 66, No. 1). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.
Martin, S. P., Astone, N. M., & Peters, H. E. (2014). Fewer marriages, more divergence: Marriage projections for millennials to age 40 (Urban Institute Research Report). Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
Matysiak, A., Sobotka, T., & Vignoli, D. (2014). The Great Recession and fertility in Europe: A sub-national anlaysis (Vienna Institute of Demography Working Paper). Vienna, Austria: Vienna Institute of Demography.
McConnell, S., Fortson, K., Rotz, D., Schochet, P., Burkander, P., Rosenberg, L., . . . D’Amico, R. (2016). Providing pubic workforce services to job seekers: 15-month impact findings on the WIA Adult and Dislocated Worker programs (Report). Washington, DC: Mathematica Policy Research.
McKernan, S.-M., Ratcliffe, C., Steuerle, E., & Zhang, S. (2014). Disparities in wealth accumulation and loss from the Great Recession and beyond. American Economic Review: Papers & Proceedings, 104, 240–244.
Modena, F., & Sabatini, F. (2012). I would if I could: Precarious employment and childbearing intentions in Italy. Review of Economics of the Household, 10, 77–97.
Moore, T. S. (2010). The locus of racial disadvantage in the labor market. American Journal of Sociology, 116, 909–942.
Moretti, E. (2012). The new geography of jobs. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Morgan, S. P. (2003). Is low fertility a twenty-first-century demographic crisis? Demography, 40, 589–603.
Morgan, S. P., Cumberworth, E., & Wimer, C. (2011). The Great Recession’s influence on fertility, marriage, divorce, and cohabitation. In D. B. Grusky, B. Western, & C. Wimer (Eds.), The Great Recession (pp. 220–245). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
Morgan, S. P., Cumberworth, E., & Wimer, C. (2012). Family, the lifecourse, and the Great Recession (A Great Recession brief). New York, NY, and Stanford, CA: Russell Sage Foundation, and Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality.
National Center for Health Statistics. (2016). Natality detail data set, 2000–2014 [Restricted-use data file and documentation]. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Newman, K. S., & Winston, H. (2016). Reskilling America: Learning to labor in the twenty-first century. New York, NY: Metropolitan Books.
Office of Management and Budget. (2013). Revised delineations of metropolitan statistical areas, micropolitan statistical areas, and combined statistical areas, and guidance on uses of the delineations of these areas (OMB Bulletin No. 13-01). Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau, Office of Management and Budget.
O’Hare, W. P., Jensen, E., & O’Hare, B. (2013, May). Potential explanations for the high net undercount rate of young children in the U.S. decennial census. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, Boston, MA.
Pager, D., Bonikowski, B., & Western, B. (2009). Discrimination in a low-wage labor market. American Sociological Review, 74, 777–799.
Pager, D., & Pedulla, D. S. (2015). Race, self-selection, and the job search process. American Journal of Sociology, 120, 1005–1054.
Parrado, E. A. (2011). How high is Hispanic/Mexican fertility in the United States? Immigration and tempo considerations. Demography, 48, 1059–1080.
Pattillo, M. (2013). Black picket fences: Privilege and peril among the black middle class (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Percheski, C., & Kimbro, R. (2014). How did the Great Recession affect fertility? Focus, 30(2), 26–30. Retrieved from https://www.irp.wisc.edu/publications/focus/pdfs/foc302g.pdf
Pfeffer, F. T., Schoeni, R. F., Kennickell, A., & Andreski, P. (2016). Measuring wealth and wealth inequality: Comparing two U.S. surveys. Journal of Economic and Social Measurement, 41, 103–120.
Piotrowski, M., Kalleberg, A., & Rindfuss, R. R. (2015). Contingent work rising: Implications for the timing of marriage in Japan. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77, 1039–1056.
Preston, S. H., Heuveline, P., & Guillot, M. (2000). Demography: Measuring and modeling population processes. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.
Rindfuss, R. R., Morgan, S. P., & Offutt, K. (1996). Education and the changing age pattern of American fertility: 1963–1989. Demography, 33, 277–290.
Royster, D. A. (2003). Race and the invisible hand: How white networks exclude black men from blue-collar jobs. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Ruggles, S., Genadek, K., Goeken, R., Grover, J., & Sobek, M. (2017). Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 7.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. https://doi.org/10.18128/D010.V7.0
Rugh, J. S. (2015). Double jeopardy: Why Latinos were hit hardest by the U.S. foreclosure crisis. Social Forces, 93, 1139–1184.
Ryder, N. B. (1980). Components of temporal variations in American fertility. In R. W. Hiorns (Ed.), Demographic patterns in developed societies (pp. 15–54). London, UK: Taylor and Francis.
Sahin, A., Song, J., & Hobijn, B. (2010). The unemployment gender gap during the 2007 recession (Current Issues in Economics and Finance, Vol. 16 No. 2). New York, NY: Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Retrieved from https://www.newyorkfed.org/research/current_issues/ci16-2.html
Sawhill, I. V. (1977). Economic perspectives on the family. Daedalus, 106(2), 115–125.
Sawhill, I. V., & Venator, J. (2015). Is there a shortage of marriageable men? (CCF Brief No. 56). Washington, DC: Center on Children and Families, Brookings Institution.
Schneider, D. (2015). The Great Recession, fertility, and uncertainty: Evidence from the United States. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77, 1144–1156.
Schneider, D. (2017). The effects of the Great Recession on American families. Sociology Compass, 11(4), 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1111/soc4.12463
Schneider, D., & Gemmill, A. (2016). The surprising decline in the non-marital fertility rate in the United States. Population and Development Review, 42, 627–649.
Schneider, D., & Hastings, O. P. (2015). Socioeconomic variation in the effect of economic conditions on marriage and nonmarital fertility in the United States: Evidence from the Great Recession. Demography, 52, 1893–1915.
Semega, J. L., Fontenot, K. R., & Kollar, M. A. (2017). Income and poverty in the United States: 2016 (Current Population Reports, No. P60-259). Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau.
Sobotka, T., Skirbekk, V., & Philipov, D. (2011). Economic recession and fertility in the developed world. Population and Development Review, 37, 267–306.
Stevenson, B., & Wolfers, J. (2007). Marriage and divorce: Changes and their driving forces. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 21(2), 27–52.
U.S. Census Bureau. (2016). 2020 census research and testing: Investigating the 2010 undercount of young children—Examining the coverage of young mothers. Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau, Decennial Statistical Studies Division.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2008). American Community Survey: New survey questions enable measurement of marital transitions. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
U.S. Department of Labor. (2012). The African-American labor force in the recovery. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Labor.
U.S. Department of the Treasury. (2012, April). The financial crisis response in charts (Presentation). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Valletta, R. G., & van der List, C. (2015). Involuntary part-time work: Here to stay? (FRBSF Economic Letter 2015-19). San Francisco, CA: Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.
Villarreal, A. (2014). Explaining the decline in Mexico-U.S. migration: The effect of the Great Recession. Demography, 51, 2203–2228.
White, L., & Rogers, S. J. (2000). Economic circumstances and family outcomes: A review of the 1990s. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 1035–1051.
Wood, C. (2014). The rise in women’s share of nonfarm employment during the 2007–2009 recession: A historical perspective. Monthly Labor Review, April, 1–21.
Yu, W.-h., & Sun, S. (2018). Fertility responses to individual and contextual unemployment: Differences by socioeconomic background. Demographic Research, 39, 927–962. https://doi.org/10.4054/DemRes.2018.39.35
The author is grateful for feedback from Jenna Nobles, Myra Marx Ferree, Marcy Carlson, Christine Schwartz, and Jennifer Laird. This research was supported by a core grant to the Center for Demography and Ecology at University of Wisconsin–Madison (P2C HD047873) as well as support from a training grant awarded to the Center for Demography and Ecology (T32 HD007014). All errors are the author’s own.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Electronic supplementary material
About this article
Cite this article
Seltzer, N. Beyond the Great Recession: Labor Market Polarization and Ongoing Fertility Decline in the United States. Demography 56, 1463–1493 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-019-00790-6
- Great recession
- Labor market polarization