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Bad economy has pushed birth rate down

The slow economy has parents rethinking plans to expand their families.

Tess Vigeland: The recession has already changed where we live, what we do and what we buy. Now it's shrinking the size of the American family. At last check, the birth rate was the lowest it's been in 25 years.

Eliza Ronalds-Hannon reports on why more people aren't bringing up baby in the wake of the Great Recession.


Eliza Ronalds-Hannon: Have you ever thought about exactly how much it costs to raise a child? Or even just to give birth? Chana Wells has.

Chana Wells: Because I'm all about the numbers. My pregnancy cost about $15,000, all right. And that $15,000 is after insurance.

Her daughter's now 3 years old, and she's the only child for Chana and her husband, who live in Brooklyn.

Wells: I want my daughter to be able to have, at the very bare minimum, what I had. But I really want her to have way more. And so, let's say on average annually, we must have shelled out $45,000 on her.

That's a big price tag, especially for a family without a guaranteed income. Both Chana and her husband are self-employed. She owns a construction firm. He is a personal trainer. Together they made about $185,000 last year, and this year is going even better. But they know nothing is guaranteed.

Wells: There are ebbs and flows, sometimes we have it, sometimes, honestly, we don't. At this point I am not feeling like we'll be able to do that for another one. Jesus, how am I gonna come up with $40,000, you know?

To raise a child, not including the cost of college, the average American family spends nearly a quarter million dollars. Government figures say that cost has jumped 23 percent in the last 50 years, after controlling for inflation. That's largely because child care and health care costs.

Wells: She's very well-insured. We have none. It's very indicative of our time. That's the stuff they don't tell you.

Susan Newman: Nobody wants to put a price tag on children, but children are big-ticket items.

That's psychologist Susan Newman, and she says those costs don't stop at what you spend on the kid. Often, parenting also means sacrificing income.

Newman: And there's a distinct motherhood penalty. Mothers are taxed, so to speak, at 7 percent per child. That's what they're losing in income.

And for the women who put off motherhood for financial reasons, delaying a bigger family sometimes means foregoing one. That's what happened to Frances Janisch, a photographer in Manhattan.

Frances Janisch: We always just were waiting for the right time. And the right time would have been around when the recession started and we just decided to hold off.

Now, Frances is 42 years old. Her daughter is 5-and-a-half and knows she won't be getting a little brother or sister.

Janisch: I worry a lot about the fact that she doesn't have a sibling. I know that I always regret that I didn't have a second child. Um, I think I will regret that forever. But, as long as she's fine, it is just the way it is.

That's the way it is for a lot of families. Sociologists say that means there could be a bigger problem on the horizon. Fewer births today will mean fewer workers to support retirees in the future.

In New York, I'm Eliza Ronalds-Hannon for Marketplace.


Vigeland: We asked a simple question on our Facebook page this morning: When you think about having kids, what makes you think twice? Join our conversation. Share your thoughts on our Facebook page.

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