NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

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, Revised in June 2016
NBER Program(s):Children, Labor Studies, Public Economics

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 house 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. Our results suggest that indeed, short-term increases in house prices lead to a decline in births among non-owners and a net increase among owners. The estimates imply that a $10,000 increase leads to a 5 percent increase in fertility rates among owners and a 2.4 percent decrease among non-owners. At the mean U.S. home ownership rate, these estimates imply that the net effect of a $10,000 increase in house prices is a 0.8 percent increase in current period fertility rates. Given underlying differences in home ownership rates, the predicted net effect of house price changes varies across demographic groups. In addition, we find that changes in house prices exert a larger effect on current period birth rates than do changes in unemployment rates. 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 house 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. Our results suggest that indeed, short-term increases in house prices lead to a decline in births among non-owners and a net increase among owners. The estimates imply that a $10,000 increase leads to a 5 percent increase in fertility rates among owners and a 2.4 percent decrease among non-owners. At the mean U.S. home ownership rate, these estimates imply that the net effect of a $10,000 increase in house prices is a 0.8 percent increase in current period fertility rates. Given underlying differences in home ownership rates, the predicted net effect of house price changes varies across demographic groups. 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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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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