When the COVID pandemic in the spring of 2020 caused widespread economic shutdowns and stay-at-home orders, many media and experts speculated that this could lead to a baby boom. But the opposite seems to have happened: a new study shows that during the crisis, birth rates in many high-income countries have fallen.
Arnstein Aassve, professor of social and political science at Bocconi University in Italy, and his colleagues surveyed the birth rate of 22 high-income countries (including the United States) from 2016 to early 2021.They found that seven of these countries are statistically significant birth rate decreases In the last months of 2020 and the first months of 2021, compared with the same period in previous years. Hungary, Italy, Spain, and Portugal saw the largest declines: 8.5%, 9.1%, 8.4%, and 6.6%, respectively. Aassve said that the U.S. dropped by 3.8%, but this is not statistically significant-this may be because the pandemic’s impact is more dispersed in the country, and the study only has U.S. data up to December 2020.The findings were published on Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Birth rate Seasonal fluctuations Within a year, many of the countries in the study experienced a rate of decline in the years before the pandemic. But the decline started nine months after the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency on January 30, 2020. “We are very confident that the impact on these countries is real,” Aassve said. “Even though they may have a slight downward trend [before], We are quite sure of the fact that there is the impact of a pandemic. “
Aassve hypothesized that the uncertainty associated with the global pandemic and its impact on household economic conditions is the most likely cause of these trends. “People don’t really understand what this disease is-it’s new to them… Many people will see that their job prospects will be worse, which is important for their income,” he said. “You may not give up childbearing altogether, but at least you can postpone it until you see things get better.”
These findings are not surprising to many demographers, who noticed similar declines after catastrophic events such as the 2008 financial crisis and the 1918 influenza pandemic. But they still deserve attention.
“We definitely expect the birth rate to fall because [COVID] The pandemic is due to the history of disasters,” said Philip Cohen, a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, who was not involved in the study. “The results are unclear, so it is really interesting and important that we get these results now. “
Cohen’s own research is described in a recent preprint study that has not been peer-reviewed, which shows Falling birth rates in Florida and Ohio During the epidemic. He found that the decline was even greater in counties with more COVID cases and lower mobility. Cohen pointed out that PNAS The study includes US data as of December 2020, and recent data shows a greater decline.
It remains to be seen whether the birth rate of high-income countries will rebound significantly in the coming months and years. Early data suggests that after the first wave of COVID infections in the hard-hit countries in the spring of 2020, the pregnancy fertility rate from June 2020 has rebounded. But the subsequent wave may cause more people to further delay childbirth.
Aassve said the long-term impact of the decline in the number of babies during the pandemic is a matter of guesswork. This phenomenon may lead to economic prosperity, as it did in the 1920s after the 1918 flu pandemic. Or it may lead to a two-level recovery, where some families that have been severely hit by the COVID pandemic and its economic impact may be less likely to have children, while other less affected or even benefited families may be more likely to do so. The third possibility The nature is that, in terms of population, this decline will be equivalent to a flash in the pan, with almost no obvious impact on the entire population.
Some countries in the new study, including several Scandinavian countries, Switzerland, and South Korea, have a slight upward trend in birth rates, but they are not statistically significant. Although it is too early to interpret these data, it can be speculated that a stronger social safety net may offset some of the uncertainties associated with having children during the pandemic.
Due to the quality of the available data, the researchers only included high-income countries in their analysis. Richer countries are also more likely to obtain contraceptive measures, and women among them are more likely to have more opportunities and power.