A report by Brookings Institution researchers predicts that there could be 300,000 to 500,000 fewer babies born in the U.S. next year, informed by historical analysis of previous public health crises.
Economists Melissa S. Kearney and Phillip Levine looked at birth rates from the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 and the 2009 Great Recession. They found that after both events, birth rates tanked. With every wave of deaths during the 1918 pandemic, fewer children were birthed nine months later. The job losses of the recession led to higher unemployment levels, and people were more likely to put off or decide against having kids.
Considering the world is dealing with both a recession and a pandemic with no certain end in sight, the two experts suggest that lower birth rates could be long lasting, as many will be unable to recoup, even after COVID-19 is no longer a global problem.
“Furthermore, if shocks to economic conditions prove to be persistent, then changes in birth rates will be as well,” the report stated. “A deeper and longer-lasting recession will then mean lower lifetime income for some people, which means that some women will not just delay births, but they will decide to have fewer children.”
A Canadian economist made a similar prediction. Metro Economics president Tom McCormack told CTV News that he expected a population dip until next year, due to reduced travel and to pandemic anxiety.
“You’re not going to get as many people moving to Canada or moving anywhere as you normally would, so the population’s going to suffer in the short term,” he said, adding that he didn’t think “people are going to be feeling too good about bringing kids into [the world.]”
Europe will also see a baby bust. A recent study of five European countries found that a majority of would-be parents were either abandoning or postponing their family-planning.
Pandemic’s emotional aspects also play role in family-planning: fertility expert
For Dr. Marjorie Dixon, the sombre findings are unsurprising. As the CEO and medical director of Toronto-based Anova Fertility & Reproductive Health, Dixon said that in virtual appointments with patients, many were “conservative” with their decisions.
“They were anxious to get back to care, but they were also cognizant of the unknown,” she told HuffPost Canada. “They went, ‘We’re just not going to do anything for the next little while, we’re just going to wait and see.’”
Beyond the uncertainty, other social repercussions of the virus have led to social conditions that aren’t ideal for family-planning, Dixon noted, like rising domestic violence rates and worsening mental health.
Before the COVID-19 outbreak was upgraded to a pandemic, she heard many expectant mothers voice concerns, and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada urged caution for pregnant Canadians.
“Initially people were scared,” she told HuffPost Canada, given that previous respiratory outbreaks in the coronavirus family had negative maternal and fetal outcomes. Those haven’t been observed with COVID-19, but the apprehension still lingers.
“Because of all that, people develop anxiety. They are not having sex. They’re watching Netflix, communicating online, they’re watching the news,” she said. “The idea of having a baby is a beautiful thing, and for a couple [they may ask], ‘What world are we bringing this baby into?’”
Babies? In this economy?
There won’t be many children of the quarn, although many believed the “COVID baby boom” theory based on how frisky couples get during snowstorms and blackouts. Instagram didn’t help, as birth announcements got cheeky with lockdown intimacy jokes.
Parenting accounts fed into the boom hype with memes and merchandise.
But if researchers are right, these babies will be rare, considering Canada’s growing job insecurity — unemployment rose to 13 per cent in April and StatsCan reports that Canadians who still have jobs are often working fewer hours.
It can also be an emotionally draining time for parents struggling to conceive. As Dixon notes, the baby boom jokes were hard for patients to hear when their in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles were postponed by the pandemic.
″[They] can joke about this boom. But here we are, paused in our fertility treatments; once more discriminated against and not considered a real medical issue,” one patient told her.
Ultimately, Dixon hopes people are more mindful before perpetuating the now-debunked baby boom myth.
“I would caution people, be careful when you say these jokes. Because it has this trickle-down effect societally,” she said. “Getting pregnant right now has all kinds of implications we could have never even anticipated or considered, given the quasi-apocalyptic status of our world today.”
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