Publications [#185512] of S. Philip Morgan
- with E. Cumberworth, C. Wimer, The Great Recession and the American Family,
in The Consequences of the Great Recession, edited by D. Grusky
(2011), Russel Sage, New York
(last updated on 2010/12/27)
Forthcoming, Russel Sage in 2011
The 2008-2009 recession produced hundreds of thousands of unemployed, billions of dollars of lost wealth, and pervasive uncertainly and insecurity. The recession has also produced hundreds of journalistic claims about profound recession effects on the family – from increasing domestic violence to the return of the family meal and family game night, from increasing divorce to reducing it, from increasing fertility to reducing it. Our paper reviews social science evidence on the effects of past recessions and examines available data on the current one. These materials provide a description of the effects of recession on families and the responses of families to recession. Stated differently, people not only “feel” the recession in their families, they also respond to it, not only as individuals but as members of families. Specifically, we examine the recession’s effects on: fertility and family planning use; unions -- marriage, divorce, cohabitation; and living arrangements of those not in unions. We will also discuss why some expected effects may not be clearly visible (because of inadequate data or because responses are likely heterogeneous). Using data from Vital Statistics and the Current Population Survey, our preliminary evidence suggests a substantial decline in fertility rates during the recession after years of steady increases. We present evidence that state-level declines in fertility were greatest in states hardest hit by the recession. Further, we find that the recession response was greater in “red states” than in “blue states,” suggesting that partisan political frames were mediating perceptions of the recession’s severity and threat. In contrast, we find no substantial differences in union formation or dissolution trends, though this may be because of countervailing forces at work or insufficient data. We do find marked increases in young people “returning to the nest,” suggesting intergenerational family responses to economic hardship and uncertainty.