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Experts speculate birth rate dropped due to recession
Newborn baby John Rodney Mays is held by his mother, Fe Mays, while his father Jerry Mays looks on. For the first time since the beginning of the decade, births dropped in the United States for the year 2008. - photo by Tom Reed

Birth statistics: 2007; 2008
District 2*: 8,984; 6,386
Hall County: 3,226; 3,877
Northeast Georgia Medical Center: 4,094; 3,864
Habersham Medical Center: 412; 407
Chestatee Regional Hospital: 186; 222

* District 2 counties include Banks, Dawson, Forsyth, Frankin, Habersham, Hall, Hart, Lumpkin, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, Union and White

The poor economy didn’t keep first-time dad Jerry Mays and wife Fe from having a baby Wednesday. They felt it was just time.

“We thought that if we were ever going to have a baby, now was the time,” said Jerry Mays, who turned 50 the day his son John Rodney was born at Northeast Georgia Medical Center. “The recession had nothing to do with us having a baby or not having a baby.”

But some experts are speculating the economy could be the reason for a 2 percent drop in the U.S. birthrate in 2008. Coming in the first full year of the recession, it marks the first annual decline in births since the start of the decade and ends an American baby boomlet. The nation recorded about 4,247,000 births last year, down about 68,000 from 2007, according to a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics.

In Hall County, the number of live births in 2008 was actually up 651 over the 3,226 recorded in 2007, according to figures from the Georgia Department of Community Health. However, Northeast Georgia Medical Center reported a 5.6 percent drop in births last year, down to 3,864. Results from other hospitals around the region were mixed — births increased slightly at Chestatee Regional Hospital in Dahlonega, from 186 to 222, and almost were unchanged at Habersham Medical Center in Demorest, from 412 to 407.

In the 13-county area served by District 2 Public Health, which includes Hall, there was a big drop in births from 2007 to 2008 — a whopping difference of 2,598.

Doug Bachtel, a University of Georgia professor who studies growth and demographic trends, said it could be that the recession is a factor, but cautioned against reading too much into the data.

“The problem with that theory is that making babies is biological and sometimes it just happens. Even in very affluent households, children are just going to happen,” he said.

Bachtel speculated that certainly, the expense of having a child may be one that some families are choosing to do without.

“I don’t know in the whole scope of things where this recession would rank, but there are some hard economic times out there and that would make people make some hard decisions and thinking more family planning,” he said. “It’s expensive to have a baby and expensive to keep one. Children are an expensive situation and people recognize that.”

Though the poor economy didn’t keep the Mayses from having a child, they have been looking for ways to keep expenses in check. They’ve purchased many used items, such as toys and furniture, that they’ve carefully cleaned and fixed as needed. Many look good as new, Mays said, including the crib that he repaired and repainted himself.

Mays added that the help of family and friends also is making the expense a little easier to bear.

“It really helps if you have a really good family, people who come to you and stand behind you,” he said. “We found resources within our group of friends and family.”

Resources included a friend who helped wife Fe make curtains, decorated in an ABC pattern that matches the bedding, for John Rodney’s room. And Mays painted the room himself, though he said he had to go with blue since he was out-voted on his choice of “John Deere green.”

While the poor economy didn’t stop their plans to have a family, Jerry Mays said it may have been a different story if his wife didn’t have a good insurance plan. “We have insurance that took care of a lot of that,” he said. “If my wife did not have insurance, we wouldn’t have had this baby.”

Bachtel said that while those with a lower income may have been hit harder by the recession, they often don’t have access to birth control options that would make it easier for them to make having a child a choice.

“People that are equipped to choose when to have a child may be doing so. ... Those that have the ability to plan will act on it,” he said.

Bachtel said “kind of like the stock market,” various factors can affect birthrates to either rise or fall, including recessions, war, times of uncertainty or political turbulence — or even extended power outages. The Great Depression and subsequent recessions all were accompanied by a decline in births, said Carol Hogue, an Emory University professor of maternal and child health and epidemiology. About half of U.S. pregnancies are unplanned. But Hogue said the recession likely affected the other half.

While the recession probably played an important role in fewer babies, another factor may be the net decline in recent years in immigration to the United States, said Mark Mather, demographer with the Population Reference Bureau. “I don’t think we have enough data to know for sure what’s going on.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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