Scholars have been examining the relationship between fertility and unemployment for more than a century. Most studies find that fertility falls with unemployment in the short run, but it is not known whether these negative effects persist, because women simply may postpone childbearing to better economic times. Using more than 140 million US birth records for the period 1975–2010, we analyze both the short- and long-run effects of unemployment on fertility. We follow fixed cohorts of US-born women defined by their own state and year of birth, and relate their fertility to the
unemployment rate experienced by each cohort at different ages. We focus on conceptions that result in a live birth. We find that women in their early 20s are most affected by high unemployment rates in the short run and that the negative effects on fertility grow over time. A one percentage point increase in the average unemployment rate experienced between the ages of 20 and 24 reduces the short-run fertility of women in this age range by six conceptions per 1,000 women. When we follow these women to age 40, we find that a one percentage point increase in the unemployment rate experienced at ages 20–24 leads to an overall loss of 14.2 conceptions. This long-run effect is driven largely by women who remain childless and thus do not have either first births or higher-order births.