Hous­ing prices go up, births go down

Econ­o­mist: ‘Rais­ing a child is a re­ally ex­pen­sive propo­si­tion’

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - ByMarisa Ken­dall mk­endall@ba­yare­anews­group.com

Sarah Low al­ways fig­ured she’d have her first baby, and own her own home, by the time she turned 30.

In­stead, she’s 32 and liv­ing in a rented house in Hay­ward with her hus­band and two room­mates. There’s no room — or money — for kids.

“At this point, if we had a child there’d be nowhere to put it,” Low said. “No bed­rooms left.”

A new study by real es­tate web­site Zil­low sug­gests many Bay Area women may be putting mother­hood on hold at least partly be­cause of the re­gion’s hous­ing mar­ket. The fer­til­ity rate is drop­ping across the coun­try for women be­tween the ages of 25 and 29, but the dip is most pro­nounced in coun­ties where home prices are ris­ing rapidly — in­clud­ing Santa Clara, Alameda and San Fran­cisco.

“Rais­ing a child is a re­ally ex­pen­sive propo­si­tion,” said Zil­low econ­o­mist Sarah Mikhi­tar-

ian, “and in th­ese mar­kets where home prices have grown re­ally, re­ally quickly … it’s mak­ing it re­ally dif­fi­cult to af­ford hous­ing, and that could be de­lay­ing hav­ing chil­dren.”

Na­tion­ally, on av­er­age, ev­ery 10 per­cent­age point in­crease in home val­ues was as­so­ci­ated with a 1.5 per­cent­age point drop in birth rates for women ages 25 to 29, ac­cord­ing to the study, which chose that group as the age when women are most likely to be con­sid­er­ing hav­ing chil­dren but do not yet own their own home.

But the drop in births was even­more pro­nounced in the Bay Area. In Santa Clara County, home val­ues rose 58 per­cent be­tween 2010 and 2016, while the fer­til­ity rate of women ages 25 to 29 dropped 20 per­cent. In Alameda County, home val­ues rose 60 per­cent while the fer­til­ity rate dropped 24 per­cent. And in San Fran­cisco, home val­ues rose 61 per- cent while the fer­til­ity rate dropped 22 per­cent.

Na­tion­ally, the birth rate for women ages 25 to 29 was 97.9 births per 1,000 women last year — down 4 per­cent from 2016 and a record low for the age group, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Disease Con­trol and Preven­tion’s Di­vi­sion of Vi­tal Statis­tics.

While Zil­low re­searchers are quick to clar­ify that their anal­y­sis does not suggest ris­ing home prices alone are caus­ing fall­ing birth rates, they say the hous­ing mar­ket likely is a con­tribut­ing fac­tor.

It cer­tainly was for Low and her hus­band, whowant to buy a home and be­come more fi­nan­cially sta­ble be­fore hav­ing chil­dren. The cou­ple moved back to Hay­ward, where Low was born and raised, af­ter grad­u­ate school about two years ago and tried to buy a house but quickly re­al­ized the avail­able homes were out of their price range. The two have steady in­comes — Low is a be­hav­ior an­a­lyst who works with autis­tic chil­dren, and her hus­band is a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist — but they also are pay­ing off about $200,000 in stu­dent debt.

So Low and her hus­band fig­ured they would rent for a year and then buy a home, but prices have climbed so steadily since then that the cou­ple still hasn’t been able to save enough for a down pay­ment. They could move away in search of cheaper hous­ing, but Low’s friends and fam­ily are in Hay­ward, and she doesn’t want to leave. So the cou­ple pays $1,800 for one bed­room in a three­bed­room house that they share with Low’s brother and for­mer co-worker. In­stead of a baby they have a dog — a bor­der col­lie- Chi­huahua mix.

As time ticks on and Low gets older, she wor­ries they might never be in a sit­u­a­tion where they can have chil­dren. And she says that prospect seems sad.

“Kids are great,” Low said. “They’re life­long com­pan­ions, es­sen­tially. Once you get to the point in your life when you’re re­tired and don’t have kids, I just imag­ine that being kind of a lonely ex­is­tence.”

NO MORE BABY BUMP

A new study found a cor­re­la­tion be­tween red-hot hous­ing mar­kets and de­clin­ing birth rates, sug­gest­ing high home prices are a fac­tor in some cou­ples choos­ing not to have chil­dren.

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