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Sometimes a society’s values change sharply with almost no one noticing. In 1968, according to a Gallup survey, 70 percent of American adults said that a family of three or more children was “ideal” — about the same number as Gallup surveys starting in 1938. That number helps explain the explosive baby boom after Americans were no longer constrained by depression and world war.

Those values and numbers didn’t last. By 1978, Gallup reported that only 39 percent considered three or more children “ideal.” The numbers have hovered around there ever since, spiking to just 41 percent in the late-1990s tech boom.

The article goes on to state the following:

The change in values and behavior took time to register. Just before the 1972 presidential election, then-President Richard Nixon and a Democratic Congress goosed up Social Security benefits. They figured the baby-boom generation was just delaying producing a baby boom of its own. Wrong. Social Security has needed patching up ever since.

Is a similar values shift happening now? Maybe so, suggest George Mason University associate professor Philip Auerswald and Palo Alto hedge-fund manager Joon Yun in an article in The New York Times. They point out that the American fertility rate — the number of children per woman age 15 to 44 — has hit a post-1970s low.

Birth rates typically drop during recessions and rise a bit during booms. They did drop notably from 2007 to 2009. But the latest data don’t show a rebound, despite significant growth and record-low unemployment.

The report continues:

Might young people bypass college and find constructive jobs and marry and raise families as their counterparts did in the postwar years?

That’s suggested by a recent trend reversal. During the sluggish 2008-2013 economy, young Americans stayed put in tiny child-unfriendly apartments in hip central-coastal cities like New York and San Francisco, and paid high rents resulting from stringent environmental restrictions. This was hailed as a move toward progressive attitudes. But evidently not. As Newgeography proprietor Joel Kotkin has noted, since growth returned, young people have been heading to child-friendly suburbs and exurbs, ditching subway cards for SUV fobs.

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