The four-bedroom Las Vegas home that Skye Pearce and Bryan Haas moved into in 2004 was meant to be the place where they would settle down and raise a family.
But nearly 10 years and countless financial setbacks later, the bedrooms Pearce and Haas envisioned their children sleeping in are used for storage and an office. The kid-friendly ledge that runs along the swimming pool is a favorite spot for their dog, Lucky. And the couple, now in their 40s, say they have never reached that point where they felt financially secure enough to have the children they always wanted.
"When we were talking about having kids and planning on having kids … we were extremely paranoid about the what-ifs," said Haas, 45. "What if I lose my job? What if this happens? What if that happens?"
The deep recession and weak recovery appear to have created that type of uncertainty in a large number of Americans in their prime child-bearing years, according to experts.
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The fertility rate has fallen sharply since the nation went into recession in 2007, hitting the lowest rate ever reported in 2011 and staying there last year. There were 63.2 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control, down from 69.3 births per 1,000 women in that age range in 2007.
It's common for people to have fewer kids when a recession hits, because they worry that they will lose their job or their home, or just not be able to afford another mouth to feed.
"When times are up, births go up," said D'Vera Cohn, a senior writer at Pew Research Center. "When times are bad, births go down."
This economic cycle has been especially weak and has lasted particularly long. Nevertheless, many experts expect that women who put off having kids because of money worries will try to catch up eventually. Still, no one can say with certainty whether those women will have as many children as they might have if the economy had been stronger.
"The net effect in the past has been that you had about the same amount of babies … but they were just born a little later," Cohn said. "That may not happen this time."
For one thing, it's unclear when Americans will start to feel good enough about their long-term prospects to incur the expense of having a child.
The recession has officially been over for four years, and there are plenty of signs the job and housing markets are improving. But Alice Schoonbroodt, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Iowa who has studied fertility and the economy, said many people probably still feel their financial situation is precarious.
"It takes nine months," Schoonbroodt said. "You need to be confident … that in the foreseeable future things are going to be good."
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It's also difficult to separate the financial crisis and recession from longer-term changes in women's attitudes about having children.
Even before the recession, U.S. fertility rates had for decades generally been much lower than they were in the Baby Boom era of the 1950s and 1960s. According to experts, that's because other factors outside the weak economy—such as higher education levels among women—that seem to be spurring many of them to have kids later, and perhaps fewer overall.
"It's going to be fascinating to see," said Jonathan Last, author of the new book "What to Expect When No One's Expecting: America's Coming Demography Disaster."
"Did the recession just exacerbate trends, or did it really put its thumb on the scale and move people into depressing fertility rates?" he said.
There's no objective measure of whether a person has enough money to have children, of course. The Department of Agriculture estimated that as of 2011, a middle-income, two-parent family will spend $234,900 to raise a child to 18—not factoring in college costs. That represented a 23 percent increase from 1960, adjusted for inflation.