Births have sprung back after plunging in previous economic crises, like the Great Depression. But back then many women didn't have careers, and they were expected to have big families. When the economy recovered and they could afford more children, they had them.
This time might be different.
"Now that I'm finally back to working full time I don't really want to have another child," says Christa Heugebauer, 39, as she watches her son, Finn, 4, race around an playground in Berlin. "Besides, I've got plenty of friends my age who don't have any children at all."
Some factors potentially could offset lower birth rates and help fuel economic growth. Lower unemployment rates would help. As hiring has picked up in the United States, people who had stopped looking for a job out of despair have started hunting again, thereby expanding the labor pool.
Countries can better educate and train their existing workers, attract more immigrants and encourage people to work past retirement age.
One hopeful sign: In April, the U.S. Labor Department reported that 19 percent of Americans 65 or older were either working or looking for work, up from a record low of 10 percent in 1985.
But many economists think demographic headwinds are just too strong to expect a jump in growth. The best hope is an unexpected innovation leading to a burst of efficiency in the workplace.
"Unless there is a technological miracle, demography alone points to 1 to 1.5 percent being the new normal," Arnott says. And 3 percent? That's "the new definition of boom times."
AP researcher Fu Ting in Shanghai and AP writers Frank Jordans in Berlin, Colleen Barry in Milan and Youkyung Lee in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report. You can reach Bernard Condon on Twitter at http://twitter.com/BernardFCondon .
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