Earlier on in the pandemic, many jokes regarding the coronavirus baby boom were a real thing due to the enforced quarantine and curfews and an overwhelming assumption the birth rate would jump up around 2034. Or so we thought….
Events such as blackouts as well as passing hurricanes can result in a mini-baby boom nine months later. But the uncertainty that seeps into every facet of people’s lives during an epidemic or a financial crisis usually leads to a decline in fertility as families reassess their plans for the future.
In attempts to understand our current future, Brookings economists Melissa Kearney and Philip Levin analyzed data from two historic time periods: the Spanish Flu of 1918, which claimed some 675,000 American lives, and the Great Recession of 2007–2009. During the Spanish Flu, birth rates dropped dramatically whenever mortality spiked.
And in the Great Recession, fertility was so highly correlated with unemployment that for every one percent rise in unemployment, they found a 1.4 percent drop in the birth rate.
In 2021, those calculations add up to 300,000 to 500,000 fewer births —- on top of the steady decline we have witnessed since the Great Recession with 400,000 to 500,000 fewer births annually.
Just last year, almost half of all countries reported more deaths than births and the US hit its lowest growth in a century. While historically, population growth in the U.S. had been steady thanks to a healthy influx of immigrants who settled and started families here, immigration is currently at historic lows.
So what does it all mean exactly fo the economy when there is a noticeable dip in the birth rate?
“There’s a ripple impact,” says Kenneth M. Johnson, professor of sociology and senior demographer at the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire. Maternity wards are not as busy, which means for some, they are permanently closed. And the industries that cater to young children are also affected.
“There are fewer kindergarteners each year than there would’ve been, and that will ripple its way up eventually into colleges and universities, and ultimately into the labor force,” Johnson adds.
And when the older generations retire, the burden of supporting them will fall onto a smaller population of young working people. If the pandemic continues on and the economic situation does not improve, the effects will impact where we live, whether or not we have kids, and if we do, how we raise them.
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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