Would you start a family if you were pessimistic about the future of the economy? Buckles et al (2017) (see link below) believe that fewer of us would do so and, therefore, fertility rates could be used by investors and central banks as an early signal to pick up subtle changes in consumer confidence and overall economic climate.
Their study titled ‘Fertility is a leading economic indicator’ uses ‘live births’ data, sourced from US birth certificates, to explore if there is any association between fertility changes (measured as the rate of change in number of births) and GDP growth. Their results suggest that, in the case of the USA, there is: dips in fertility rates tend to precede by several quarters slowdown in economic activity. As the authors state:
The growth rate of conceptions declines prior to economic downturns and the decline occurs several quarters before recessions begin. Our measure of conceptions is constructed using live births; we present evidence suggesting that our results are indeed driven by changes in conceptions and not by changes in abortion or miscarriage. Conceptions compare well with or even outperform other economic indicators in anticipating recessions.
Although this is not the first piece of academic writing to claim that fertility has pro-cyclical qualities (see for instance, Adsera (2004, 2011), Adsera and Menendez (2011), Currie and Schwandt (2014) and Chatterjee and Vogle (2016) linked below), it is, to the best of our knowledge, the most recent paper (in terms of data used) to depict this relationship and to explore the suitability of fertility as a macroeconomic indicator to predict recessions.
Economies, after all, are groups of people who participate actively in day-to-day production and consumption activities – as consumers, workers and business leaders. Changes in their environment should affect their expectations about the future.
Are people, however, forward-looking enough to guide their current behaviours by their expectations of future economic outcomes? They may be, according to the findings of this study.
Did you know, for instance, that sales of ties tend to increase in economic downturns, as men buy more ties to show that they are working harder, in fear of losing their job? But this is probably a topic for another blog.
UK unemployment is rising. According to figures released by the Office for National Statistics, in the third quarter of 2011 the unemployment rate was 8.3%, the highest since 1986. The number unemployed was 2.62 million, up 129,000 on the previous quarter.
The figures for those aged from 16 to 24 are particularly worrying. If you include those in full-time education but who are looking for employment and are available for work, the unemployment rate in this age group was 23.3%. If you exclude those in full-time education, the rate was 20.6% (up 1.8 percentage points since the previous quarter).
The government was quick to blame the eurozone crisis for the rise in unemployment. The Minister of State for Employment, Chris Grayling, said, “What we are seeing are the consequences of the crisis in the eurozone.”
But is this true? Unemployment is a lagging indicator. In other words, it takes time for unemployment to respond to changing economic circumstances. Thus the rise in unemployment from quarter 2 to quarter 3 2011 was the result of the economic conditions at the beginning of 2011 and earlier – a time when growth in the eurozone was faster than that in the UK. The eurozone economy grew by 2.4% in the 12 months to 2011Q1, whereas the UK economy grew by only 1.6% over the same period. Even taking the 12 months up to 2011Q3, the eurozone economy grew by 1.4%, whereas the UK economy grew by only 0.5%.
Of course, if the crisis in the eurozone leads to another recession, then this will almost certainly lead to a rise in unemployment. But that’s to come, not what’s happened.
The following articles look at the rise in unemployment and especially that of young people. They examine its causes and consider possible solutions at a time when governments in the UK and around the world are concerned to reduce public-sector deficits and debt.
According to labour market data released by Office for National Statistics on 16 September, unemployment has risen to a 14-year high. The Labour Force Survey figures show a rise in unemployment from 2.26 million (7.2%) in the three months to April 2009 to 2.47 million (7.9%) in the three months to July 2009. The data also show a 12,000 rise in the claimant count between July and August.
However, there are signs that the UK economy is growing again. This was underlined by evidence given to the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee on 15 September by the Governor of the Bank of England. So does this mean that businesses will take on more labour and that unemployment will fall?
The problem is that unemployment is a lagging indicator of economic activity. The reason is that many firms are reluctant to shed labour in recession and simply take up the slack as the economy recovers, without taking on extra labour. Even if they are short of labour, they may prefer to offer overtime to existing staff rather than employing new staff for fear that the upturn may be short-lived.
So what is likely to happen to unemployment over the coming months? Will it slowly fall or will it go on rising and, if so, for how long? Read the articles and then attempt the questions.
What is meant by the terms ‘leading indicators’ and ‘lagging indicators’? Give some examples of each.
What determines the length of lag between a rise in output and (a) a rise in employment and (b) a fall in unemployment?
Is unemployment a good measure of the excess supply of labour in the labour market? What other evidence might you need in order to assess the degree of slack in individual labour markets?
If labour becomes more flexible in terms of the hours that people are prepared to work, will the unemployment lag increase or decrease? Explain.
Under what circumstances does obtaining a university degree improve your job prospects?
To what extent would reforming the benefits system, so as to reduce the poverty trap and give people a greater incentive to work, reduce unemployment (a) during a recession and (b) over the long term? What type of unemployment would be affected?