The Great Recession dragged down more than wages and housing prices: The nation’s birth rate fell sharply as well, Gretchen Livingston reports from the Pew Research Center, and the decline is closely linked to the failing economy.

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Provisional numbers for 2010 show the number of births in this country fell to just over 4 million, down from a peak of 4.3 million in 2007 and the lowest number in this century. The fertility rate–the number of births to women of child-bearing age–also plunged, from 69.6 per thousand in 2007 to a projected 64.7 per thousand in 2010.

Because different states felt the effects of the recession at different times and to different degrees, Pew was able to use state-by-state data to correlate the declining birth rate with the onset of and severity of economic upheaval. In 47 states and the District of Columbia, fertility declines occurred within one to two years of the start of economic declines as indicated by changes in personal income per capita and the employment rate. “This does not conclusively prove that the economic changes led to fertility changes,” Livingston said. “However, the timing is consistent with the time it might take people to act upon fertility decisions.”

The study also finds that Hispanics, who have been hardest-hit in terms of employment and household wealth, also had the largest drop in fertility. Their birth rate fell by 5.9 percent between 2008 and 2009, compared with 1.6 percent for whites and 2.4 percent for blacks.

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