San Mateo County birth rate in steady decline

As Burlingame residents, Joseph Curran and Tatum Mothershead swore to the same solemn vow — they were never going to cross a bridge to commute to jobs in Daly City.

But in 2006, when the couple decided to have a baby and buy a house, they waived the white flag and moved to Berkeley.

“We looked for a long time and the price of real estate on the Peninsula everywhere was beyond our means,” said Curran, who works in the Daly City city manager’s office. Mothershead is a senior planner for the city.

Being pushed out of the Peninsula to start their family, Curran and Mothershead are part of a trend demographers say is at least partially responsible for San Mateo County’s falling birth rate.

According to San Mateo County Assessor-Clerk-Recorder Warren Slocum, only 5,123 babies were born in San Mateo County in 2007. That’s a decrease of more than 9 percent since a high of 5,641 births in 2004. The numbers have been going down steadily for the past three years.

During the same time, San Mateo County’s population grew slightly overall — from 719,000 to 726,000, according to the California Department of Finance. The falling birth rate is also at odds with the increase in babies being born statewide during the same time period.

Hans Johnson, a demographer with the Public Policy Institute of California in San Francisco, theorized that two separate factors are influencing the declining numbers in San Mateo County.

First, as in the case of Curran and Mothershead, is the limited availability and astronomical cost of housing. According to June statistics from the county’s Housing Authority, the median cost of a two-bedroom house was $970,000.

The other influence, says Johnson, is that those in the so-called “baby bust” generation, a very small generation born in the mid-1960s through the 1970s after the “baby boom,” are now having children. The fact that there are simply fewer from that generation accounts for some of the drop in babies being born.

The county’s decreasing school enrollment also reflects the dip in families, said Peter Burchyns, special adviser to the superintendent of the San Mateo County Office of Education.

A decade ago, the county’s schools held 92,825 students. Today, that number is 88,479. A handful of schools have closed over the years due to the slight decline, while a few schools have opened in pockets of growing developments such as Redwood Shores, Burchyns said.

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