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Our nation is facing a severe affordable housing issue. And now that issue is extending into future generations, by shrinking them. With rent as a major expense many don't have the income to start considering children.

It’s something millennials hear again, and again, and again: Their delay in starting families, and their inability to afford a home, represent their collective failures as a generation.

We’re slowly starting to understand that this may not be their fault (it might be capitalism’s). And a team of economists have now crunched the data proving that zoning and restrictive land-use regulations–forces that contribute to making housing so expensive in cities like San Francisco and New York–are actually driving fertility rates downward.

In a recent paper co-authored with Harvard Kennedy School PhD candidate Lauren Russell, Daniel Shoag, a Kennedy School and Case Western Reserve professor, found “a significant relationship between land-use restrictions and fertility rates across all measures and geographies.” Shoag and Russell determined the relative restrictiveness of a city’s land-use policies by the number of cases brought to court around housing issues; they crossed that data with listings like the Wharton Residential Land Use Index to arrive at a complete picture of a city’s zoning codes and housing stock. When overlayed with fertility data from the CDC, they found that the cities and towns that actively stifle or restrict development are seeing fertility rates, especially among young women, plummet.

We know this instinctively. Stories abound about young tech workers in major cities living in tiny apartments that could never accommodate a family. Even for the relatively well-off in these cities, the costs of relocating to a larger home are prohibitive enough that they often just forgo, or delay, starting a family until much later in life: Birth rates among women aged 20 to 24 (once, the most likely time to start having a family) declined by 4% from 2006 to 2016. In that same time frame, fertility rates among women aged 35 to 39 rose slightly.

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