Birth Rate: Ultimate Index of Consumer Confidence (Down)

Written by Steve Matthews

If you’re looking for an unconventional way to assess the mood of the country and economy, check out U.S. birth and marriage rates.

Americans had 3.96 million babies last year, the fewest since 1999 and a fourth consecutive yearly decline, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Population growth is the slowest since World War II, according to the Census Bureau.

Having children is a measure of long-term confidence in jobs and income, said Samuel Sturgeon, president of Demographic Intelligence in Charlottesville, Virginia. There is good reason for that: A middle-income family with a child born in 2011 can expect to spend about $234,900 over 17 years for things like food, shelter and child care, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The same goes for nuptials, seeing as the median wedding costs about $17,000, estimates Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia in  Charlottesville.

“Many couples are postponing or foregoing marriage until the financial foundations of their relationship improve,” he said.

The median age for first marriage in 2011 was 28.7 years for men and 26.5 years for women, each up by 1 year or more from 2006 prior to the past recession, Census data show.

Princeton, New Jersey-based Church & Dwight Co., manufacturer of First Response pregnancy tests and Trojan condoms, says Americans are feeling gloomy.

“More people are depressed. So, sex has gone down and condom use has gone down,” Chief Executive Officer James Craigie said at an investment conference in June. “As far as pregnancy-kit usage, it’s been a little bit tough lately. People aren’t having kids.”

What do you think about this article? Comment below!