Fertility and Economic Crisis: How Does Early 20th Century Compare to Early 21st Century?

Mathias Lerch, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research
Sebastian Kl├╝sener, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

The recent global Great Recession has stirred research investigating the effects of drastic economic contractions on fertility. Frequently young people were more affected, and lower-order births postponed. In order to improve our understanding whether the derived findings are specific for this recent recession or of a more universal nature, we contrast them with fertility responses during the drastic economic crises in the early 20th century. A major limitation of previous research on these earlier crises is that most studies use rather crude fertility measures. We can address this limitation by relying on exceptional time series of fertility data by birth order or by birth order and age for two German subregions (city of Nuremberg and the state of Baden) and the US and some US subterritories. These are investigated with direct and indirect methods. The analyses provide insights in fertility responses during the German hyperinflation of 1923 and the global 1929 Great Depression. Our preliminary findings show that national fertility trends in the US hardly changed during the Great Depression. For Nuremberg, Baden, and New York state, however, we detect evidence for a fertility reduction focused on lower-order births. Similarly, for the US national-level data for the 1920s and 1930s do not provide indications for changes in the tempo of childbearing during the depression. This is different in Nuremberg, where we find evidence for postponement and recuperation of lower-order births during and after the Great Depression. Our outcomes suggest that fertility patterns typical for the recent Great Recession were at least in some high-developed contexts already visible during the crises of the 1920s and 1930s.

Presented in Session 1152: Fertility