The Covid Baby Bust

At the start of the pandemic, there were a number of people who predicted a mini baby boom 9 months after the start of the pandemic. The thinking went that those stuck at home together would snuggle up and make babies. Some even jokingly referred to the cohort born from this effect as the “coronials”. Berkeleyside does point out that the article was published on April 1, and shouldn’t be taken seriously, but still there were people making the same argument, just not quite to the same extreme.

On the other hand, demographers at the Brookings Institute predicted that unemployment and economic uncertainty would instead cause a Baby Bust with anywhere from 250,000 to 500,000 fewer births in 2021 than would otherwise be expected

What are the likely implications of the COVID-19 episode for fertility?  The monthly unemployment rate jumped from 3.5 percent to 14.7 percent in April and to 13.3 percent in May. Note that the BLS also indicate that technical issues in collecting these data likely mean that the actual unemployment rates in those months were likely 5 and 3 percentage points higher, respectively. That would bring them to about 19.7 and 16.3 percent. Although it is difficult to forecast the 2020 annual unemployment rate, assuming a 7 to 10 percentage-point jump to 10.6 to 13.6 percent seems reasonable. Based on the findings presented above, this economic shock alone implies a 7 to 10 percent drop in births next year. With 3.8 million births occurring in 2019, that would amount to a decline of between 266,000 and 380,000 births in 2021.

December and January were the first months that full term babies conceived during the pandemic could be born, and we won’t have data on officially released for a few months, initial indications support the theory that economic uncertainty would over ride any “snuggle’ effect and the Baby Bust predicted by the Brookings demographers might be real. The coming COVID-19 baby bust: Update

survey conducted by Laura D. Lindberg, Alicia VandeVusse, Jennifer Mueller and Marielle Kirstein of the Guttmacher Institute reveals that that 34 percent of American women have either delayed their plans to have a child or reduced the number of children they expect to have as a result of the pandemic. …

The Baby bust theory is further backed up by an analysis of search terms

A study by Joshua Wilde, Wei Chen, and Sophie Lohmann based on these data supports our prediction of reduced fertility. The authors report that searches for pregnancy-related terms, such as “ClearBlue” (a pregnancy test), “ultrasound,” and “morning sickness” have fallen since the pandemic began. Based on the reduced searches for pregnancy-related terms, the authors of that study forecast a reduction of births on the order of 15 percent, an even larger drop than what we forecasted.

And finally those states that have reported births from December have reported approximately 10% reductions from expected levels.

The U.S. birth and fertility rate has been dropping for decades, and dropped below “replacement” level in 2010, and has continued to drop since,.

A true and wide economic recovery would increase the fertility and birth rate, but will it come up to replacement level? Trends argue against the idea.

We need to consider that the U.S. is going to become an older, and potentially smaller population. That could be offset with immigration, but that is a political decision.

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