House Prices and Birth Rates: The Impact of the Real Estate Market on the Decision to Have a Baby

Lisa J. Dettling, Melissa Schettini Kearney

NBER Working Paper No. 17485
Issued in October 2011
NBER Program(s):   CH   LS   PE

This project investigates how changes in Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA)- level housing prices affect household fertility decisions. Recognizing that housing is a major cost associated with child rearing, and assuming that children are normal goods, we hypothesize that an increase in real estate prices will have a negative price effect on current period fertility. This applies to both potential first-time homeowners and current homeowners who might upgrade to a bigger house with the addition of a child. On the other hand, for current homeowners, an increase in MSA-level house prices will increase home equity, leading to a positive effect on birth rates. Controlling for MSA fixed effects, trends, and time-varying conditions, our analysis finds that indeed, short-term increases in house prices lead to a decline in births among non-owners and a net increase among owners. Our estimates suggest that a $10,000 increase in house prices leads to a 2.1 percent increase in births among home owners, and a 0.4 percent decrease among non-owners. At the mean U.S. home ownership rate, our estimates imply that the net effect of a $10,000 increase in house prices is a 0.8 percent increase in births. Given underlying differences in home ownership rates, the predicted net effect of house price changes varies across demographic groups. Our paper provides evidence that homeowners use some of their increased housing wealth, coming from increases in local area house prices, to fund their childbearing goals. In addition, we find that changes in house prices exert a larger effect on current period birth rates than do changes in unemployment rates.

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This paper was revised on April 10, 2012

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w17485

Published: Dettling, Lisa and Melisa S. Kearney. “House Prices and Birth Rates: The Impact of the Real Estate Market on the Decision to Have a Baby,” Journal of Public Economics 110, February 2014: 1-166 citation courtesy of

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