Is Life Expectancy Changing Due to Our Terrible Economy?
Name: Curt Carpenter
1. Does the economic disaster of the last two years show up in our demographic data yet? (Life expectancies, birth rates and so on.)
2. What would a real economic collapse in the U.S. (or in the West generally) “look like”? I read the tragic stories of the 99ers and wonder, what if the number of people in these situations doubles or triples?
Paul Solman: Let’s just take your question 1 today.
The crisis has not, as far as I know, shown up yet in life expectancy data. Indeed, when I last checked in with Richard Suzman, Director for the Behavioral and Social Research Program at the National Institute on Aging some months ago, he said that not only is life expectancy continuing to rise, but that it may be showing signs of increasing its rate of improvement.
The birth rate, however, may be telling a crash-related tale. According to an AP story,
The birth rate dropped for the second year in a row since the recession began in 2007. Births fell 2.6 percent last year even as the population grew…
“It’s a good-sized decline for one year. Every month is showing a decline from the year before,” said Stephanie Ventura, the demographer who oversaw the report.
The birth rate, which takes into account changes in the population, fell to 13.5 births for every 1,000 people last year. That’s down from 14.3 in 2007 and way down from 30 in 1909, when it was common for people to have big families.
The situation is a striking turnabout from 2007, when more babies were born in the United States than any other year in the nation’s history. The recession began that fall, dragging down stocks, jobs and births.
“When the economy is bad and people are uncomfortable about their financial future, they tend to postpone having children. We saw that in the Great Depression the 1930s and we’re seeing that in the Great Recession today,’ said Andrew Cherlin, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University.”
It would make sense if the birth rate responded faster than the death rate, of course. Rather less of a lag time. But don’t go betting the farm on the validity of the birth rate data either. As the AP story goes on to say, “In Britain, the population took its biggest jump in almost half a century last year and the fertility rate is at its highest level since 1973. France’s birth rate also has been rising; Germany’s too.”
In other words, as is so often the case with statistics, there are a lot of things going on simultaneously that might explain any one of them.