During recession Americans make changes, not babies

The economy is being blamed for a drop in the number of Americans having babies. That's not surprising given a recent government report that said parents could expect to spend $221,000 to raise a child from birth to age 17. This is the first time the number of U.S. births has dropped in 10 years.

Figures from the National Center for Health Statistics indicate that the number of births fell 2% in 2008 to 4,247,000. That compares with the previous year when the birthrate surpassed a record high set 50 years earlier. The number of births fell across the country last year except in 10 states. California saw a 2.6% decline in births and Arizona had a 3% drop.

Early data for 2009 also seem to indicate that many families are putting off having children. That's probably due in large part to the fact that many men who are the primary breadwinners in their families are losing jobs. "More than 80 percent of the job losses in this recession have been borne by men," Stephanie Coontz, a professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., told the New York Times. "There are a lot of families where a maternity leave would mean that no income at all was coming in."

While some women may go ahead and decide to get pregnant after being laid off from a job because they're home anyway and just want to have a child, others will no doubt postpone expanding their family. Although there are signs the economy could begin to improve, there is still too much uncertainty for many folks who are just barely hanging on financially.

Economic woes also took a toll in birth rates in the past: during the 1930s when the country was hit by the Depression and in the 1970s during the Arab oil embargo. Some experts say it's too soon to say whether or not the number of births will drop even more significantly because of the economy. But my guess is that although many couples would love to have a child, the U.S. birthrate won't start to rise again until we've seen a clear end to this recession.

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