Has COVID-19 brought about a “baby bust?” Although the pandemic is still unfolding and the dust is unsettled, a number of reports have already shown some countries are witnessing a sharp drop in the number of babies born. It’s unclear how far and wide this trend might spread, but some are forecasting that many corners of the world could see a "large, lasting baby bust" in the wake of the pandemic.
Nine months after the pandemic was declared, Spain saw a 22.6 percent drop in births. According to the Spanish newspaper El País, there were 13,000 fewer newborns registered in Spain between December 2020 and January 2021 compared to the same period the previous year. A similar picture is emerging in the UK and France.
In the US, data from 29 state health departments found a roughly 7.3 percent decline in births in December 2020 compared to the previous year, CBS News reports. California, the most populous state, reported a 10.2 percent decline in births during December 2020 compared to December 2019, while Hawaii saw a 30.4 percent decline.
The birth rate has been slowly slipping for many countries over the past few decades, primarily out of greater availability of contraception. In fact, within the next 80 years, this general trend is set to build across much of the planet and result in the first global population decline in centuries. However, this recent trend appears to be an altogether different shift.
The Brookings Institution, a public policy think tank in Washington DC, predicted that the COVID-19 pandemic will likely lead to "a large, lasting baby bust” back in June 2020. Although just a couple of months into the global outbreak, they suggested the public health crisis and subsequent recession would result in 300,000 to 500,000 fewer births in 2021. In December 2020, they updated this prediction in light of new information and estimated the drop in births will be closer to 300,000 fewer newborns.
This trend is likely to be driven by a range of factors. First and foremost, economic troubles and turbulent labor markets often make for declining birth rates, especially unemployment and sudden drops in income. It's also true increased wealth and prosperity are often linked to higher birth rates. Estimates vary, but millions of people are expected to be pushed into poverty worldwide due to the pandemic and resulting economic damage.
Nothing kills the mood more than a global pandemic, either. It appears that levels of sexual activity have also fallen, even in couples who live together. The Brookings Institution cites one survey by the Kinsey Institute that found almost half of adults surveyed report a decline in their sex lives. It’s also worth noting that IVF treatments have also been delayed due to COVID-19, which may also play a role in many peoples’ plans to start a family.
Most researchers appear hesitant to say how long this trend may last. Much of this will depend on how the rest of the pandemic pans out and how quickly the economy bounces back. Indeed, it's possible that we may also see a baby boom once the pandemic is over. For now, at least, the future remains as uncertain as ever.
“The economic fallout, persistent health concerns, uncertainty about the safety and availability of medical care and the closure of schools all combine to make this a very unappealing time for couples to start or expand their family,” Emily Smith-Greenaway, an associate professor of sociology and spatial sciences at the University of Southern California, told HuffPost. “We certainly anticipate there to be a rebound, but we’re not so sure about an overshoot ― a boom that helps to offset the bust.”