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Downturn could lead to baby bust

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TESS VIGELAND: St. Barnabas Medical Center of Livingston, N.J., is claiming the first U.S. birth of 2009. It says Edgar Rafael Moreno was born there one second after midnight — Eastern Standard Time, of course. But residents of Guam might have something to say about that. They’re claiming the first baby born on U.S. soil at 13 seconds past midnight, Chamorro Standard Time — 15 hours ahead of Jersey.

I dunno. I report. You decide.

Anyway, baby new year aside, there are some predictions that ’09 might see something of a baby bust, what with the recession and all.

Marketplace’s Rico Gagliano looked into it.

RICO GAGLIANO: Seem like the country’s a little more crowded than usual these days? That’s ’cause, well, it is.

Stephanie Ventura is a demographer at the National Center for Health Statistics.

STEPHANIE VENTURA: Actually, in 2006 the overall birth rate increased 3 percent. So we had the largest number of births since 1961.

And 2007 saw the most births in American history. But thanks to the recession we may soon be getting a little more elbow room.

CARL HAUB: I would imagine that the economic downturn would involve some kind of a baby bust.

That’s Carl Haub, a demographer at the nonprofit Population Reference Bureau. He says in a recession people who lose their jobs can’t afford to have a kid — so they don’t. And folks who do have a job worry they could lose it — so they delay having kids. History seems to bear out Haub’s theory. During the Great Depression births dropped a massive 14 percent. . . .

HAUB: . . . To an average of 2.1 children per woman. In the 1970s, with the very rapid inflation, the birth rate fell to its lowest in our history — 1.7 children per woman.

Most experts don’t imagine such a drastic drop this time around. The baby bust of the 1970s, remember, also coincided with the growing popularity of the pill. And it’s not like hard economic times keep couples from baby-producing activities. In fact, quite the opposite — at least according to Katy Zvolerin. She’s a spokesperson for Adam & Eve. They sell what we’ll politely call “marital aids,” and their sales are up 6 percent over this time last year.

KATY ZVOLERIN: I think more people are probably staying home, trying not to spend a lot of money. Instead of going on little getaways, I think people are trying to have some romantic time and, hopefully, using some of our products.

So how much of a baby bust, if any, will we actually see? Demographers say they’ll have a better idea in, oh, about nine months.

In Los Angeles, I’m Rico Gagliano for Marketplace.

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