A paper entitled ‘Is Fertility a Leading Economic Indicator’ concludes that the rate of women becoming pregnant begins to fall several months before the start of a recession.
The research team, comprising economists from the Universities of Notre Dame (UND) and Kentucky, measured fertility in the United States by proxy using the number of conceptions (deduced from live births) over a set period of time.
They found that the growth of the conception rate declines quickly at the beginning of an economic downturn and that this holds true for the Great Recession, the recessions in 1991 and 2001 as well as the 2008 Financial Crash.
Possible explanations for this seemingly spurious correlation may include families planning based on optimistic or pessimistic economic expectations or changing government family planning policies
However exciting the discovery of a possible new economic predictor, the relationship between fertility and economic growth is not without limitation. Professor Buckles of UND, a lead author of the paper, comments that “it might be difficult in practice to determine whether a one-quarter drop in conceptions is really signalling a future downturn” adding that the predictive value of most economic indicators is questionable.
Such a questionable nature should be taken on board by those excited by the conclusions of this paper as previous metrics claiming to be indicators of economic growth have included things such as the Lipstick Index, the Tie Index and even the sales of men’s underwear.
Nevertheless, the relationship between fertility rates and the economy in general has actually been well documented in economic literature. It remains to be seen whether or not the discovery of this latest relationship stands up to further scrutiny.
The latest figures for the number of conceptions in the U.K. (2015) stand at 876,934, a 0.7% increase on the year before. Economic growth in the U.K. averaged 0.43% last year (2017) and 0.48% the previous year (2016).
By Emmanuel Young