Baby Bust: Pandemic takes toll on US birth rate


CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — Contrary to many expectations, pandemic stay-at-home orders haven’t triggered the baby boom researchers predicted.

Perhaps it was the stress or being cooped up with the entire family. But the numbers are in, and one effect of the coronavirus lockdown is now clear — people made fewer babies.

The Brookings Institution estimated in a June 2020 study, that the COVID-19 public health crisis and related recession could result in 300,000 to 500,000 fewer 2021 births in the United States. The institute revisited the prediction in December and stand by their initial estimates based on their previous methodology, placing an emphasis on the lower range.

People like California esthetician Dorothy Robinson and her husband put off having another child due to the pandemic.

“When COVID happened, we kind of just put our plans on the back burner,” Robinson explained. “Well, the unknown of getting pregnant, going to the hospital during COVID.”

Laura Prado welcomed a baby girl seven months ago but said she understands why the predicted pandemic baby boom was actually a bust.

“I totally understand because who’d want to have a baby during this time,” Prado said. “These times are so strange and so unknown. It’s interesting territory because we’ve never experienced it before.”

Over nine months since a Stay at Home order in California, January birth numbers are down by 23% compared to 2019.

“People are uncertain about things right now. They don’t know what’s gonna happen next and that’s not conducive to making babies,” said Dowell Myers, University of Southern California professor of planning & demography.

Myers is an expert on demographics and population change; he says 300,000 fewer Americans will impact far more than the economy and education.

“It ripples through the system because 20 years later, that smaller cohort will now arrive at working age, and you’ve got fewer people coming into the workforce.”

With Baby Boomers aging out of the workforce, the imbalance will become bigger with fewer paying taxes and supporting the Social Security system.

“Every kid born today is twice as valuable as a child born before 1985, because when they get to be working age, they’re gonna be joining this ratio, and they’re gonna be vitally important. So the missing 300,000 people is going to put extra burden on all the other working age people,” Myers said.

The trend of dipping birth rates is reflected around the world, from Asia to Europe. Statisticians cited uncertainty over the coronavirus and the economy discouraging couples from marrying and/or having children.

South Korea’s fertility rate fell to the lowest in the world last year. The number of expected babies per South Korean woman fell to 0.84 in 2020, dropping further from the country’s previous record low of 0.92 a year earlier, the official annual reading released in February from Statistics Korea showed.

The number of new births in China plummeted 15% in 2020 from a year earlier, according to the Ministry of Public Security. The abandoning of the decades-long one-child policy in 2016 has not provided much impetus to the country’s birth rate.

Births in Italy in December – exactly nine months after the country went into Europe’s first lockdown – plunged by a whopping 21.6%, according to figures from a sample of 15 Italian cities released this week by statistics agency ISTAT.

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A survey conducted in five European countries during the March and April lockdown showed many people calling off plans to have kids. Germans and French were more likely to say they were delaying, while Italians were more likely to say they had abandoned their plans altogether.

Despite the fact it will be several months before birth data will be released, the Brookings Institution cites corroborating evidence and surveys focused on American women, sexual activity decline and even searches in Google trends.

Economic stressors disproportionately affect women in the pandemic, with studies finding more women have left jobs since the start of the pandemic to care for children. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that women were four times more likely than men to drop out of the workforce in the month of September alone.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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