Of course, many factors are at work when it comes to a lower birthrate: delayed marriage, the advent of contraception, education and career options for women, economic stability, and so forth. It's not yet clear how much of a deterrent exorbitant and widespread student debt poses to family formation, because the phenomenon is relatively new.
"There are not a lot of hard numbers yet," says Tamika Butler, director of the California office of the Young Invincibles, a youth advocacy group that has focused on the student debt issue since 2009, conducting studies and making policy recommendations to Washington. A 2012 Rutgers University study, "Chasing the American Dream: Recent College Graduates and the Great Recession," shows that 4 in 10 graduates from a four-year college program said debt has delayed major decisions such as buying a house or starting a family. And there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that student debt is delaying childbearing.
Cassandra Coey graduated from The Ohio State University in 2010 with a degree in sociology. Between private and government loans, she owes at least $85,000. Her field is political consulting, but the lingering effects of the Great Recession have complicated her search for the ideal job. With student loan payments to make, she has taken whatever work is available, from fundraising for an environmental campaign to, more recently, a return to her college job in the food service industry. "I'm not even making $10 an hour," says Ms. Coey from her cellphone, coming off a shift at 10 p.m.