Why researchers are predicting a decline of between 300,000 and 500,000 births post-pandemic and how it could affect future generations
When government-issued lockdowns started spanning across the globe last March, people instantly began predicting a baby boom would occur in the coming year. The babies born in late 2020 and early 2021 were said to become the “Coronial Generation,” and many were expecting to see a rapid increase in birth rates due to couples spending an unprecedented amount of time alone at home.
However, now that stay-at-home orders have been in place for over a year and researchers have had ample time to study recent birth trends, it is becoming increasingly evident that a COVID-19 baby boom is nowhere in sight. In fact, our world may be on the brink of the opposite: one of the biggest baby busts in history.
Though there is a sociological belief that major world events are commonly paired with a baby boom nine months later, COVID-19 has been a global occurrence unlike anything in the past.
The baby boomers born after World War II were conceived during the post-war period, when the economy was on the rise and a feeling of certainty was washing over America for the first time in six years. The baby booms that occurred in Maine and New Hampshire after an ice storm shut down portions of the Northeast in 1998 were caused by a short-lived event where online shopping, streaming services and video games were not at our fingertips for entertainment.
Even the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, the closest thing we can compare to COVID-19, was drastically different.
“It’s natural to want to compare the two pandemics, and there are things we can learn from that, but they are very different. Communities were built differently, the science behind the vaccines were extraordinarily different and people could not have the same kind of social connections we have now,” said Bradley Hale, a professor in Azusa Pacific’s history and political science department.“There are probably things we could generalize, but every baby boom or bust is going to have its unique features and causes.”
Though COVID-19 cannot be directly compared to other major events, researchers have been able to take birth rate statistics recorded during similar historical occurrences to reach a conclusion the majority of experts are agreeing on.
“The decline in births could be on the order of 300,000 to 500,000 fewer births next year,” Brookings Institution reports. “We base this expectation on lessons drawn from economic studies of fertility behavior, along with data presented here from the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and the 1918 Spanish flu.
The fact that birth rates were already on the decline before the pandemic hit is another crucial factor that will likely make this baby bust more drastic than others that have occurred before it. The year 2018 marked the lowest number of births America had seen since 1986, according to a 2019 National Public Radio report. That number has only continued to decrease in recent years.
Why were people deciding to postpone starting a family pre-pandemic? There were multiple reasons. After witnessing how the economy was brutally hit by the Great Recession in late 2007, many Americans have yet to restore their faith in the economy. The experience of that financial uncertainty is among the main reasons why adults are neglecting to have children, and why fertility rates have yet to bounce back from the 2007 drop.
There are also several cultural factors at play.
“Look at climate change and fear of population growth,” says Hale. “There were a lot of people before the pandemic started who were questioning whether or not you should bring children into this world due to its current state.”
Unfortunately, COVID-19 has only made many of these worries stronger. So much so that more than 40% of women reported changing their plans regarding how many children they want and when they want to have them due to the pandemic, according to a 2020 Guttmacher Institute survey asking 2,009 women ages 18 to 49 about their opinions on children.
This can largely be attributed to the uncertainty being felt in multiple facets of the world. US unemployment will have risen by around 5.5% in the year following the pandemic’s start, according to The New York Times. This startling statistic combined with an unsteady economy and limited job opportunities has caused many Americans to feel an unprecedented level of financial anxiety.
There are also many social factors that should be acknowledged. Young people who were not in a relationship before the pandemic have been less likely to find a partner. Current mothers who have their hands full with home-schooling their children are far less likely to want more soon. The level of political and social unrest that took place during 2020 regarding the election and the Black Lives Matter movement left many wary of bringing children into our current society.
What can we expect from this baby bust in terms of how society and future generations will be impacted? Experts have made various predictions.
“Generally speaking, losing population is not a good thing,” Hale explained. “It isn’t good for communities, the economy or the creativity and the vibrance existing within society.”
Additionally, the problem could worsen if we see a decrease in immigration rates.
“When the population’s natural growth rate slows, immigration historically has made up the difference. But, that too is declining,” said Catherine E. Shoichet, a senior immigration and demographics writer for CNN. “Given that coronavirus fears have fueled unprecedented efforts by countries around the world to close their borders and impose travel restrictions, we’re not likely to see an uptick anytime soon.”
When speaking about the babies that will be born, coronials are predicted to be the most home-schooled generation in modern history, according to a sociologist that spoke to the Special Broadcasting Service. Parents will worry about their children attending public schools, large events and public gatherings, which could affect their level of socialization.
Because there will be an increase in the number of only-children in the US, researchers predict there could be a “loneliness pandemic” due to children not having siblings to play and connect with.
On the bright side, it could also mean coronials won’t be entering cut-throat college and work environments. Less competitive environments will leave room for increased compassion and less pressure placed on children by their parents and themselves.
Though this baby bust may be unavoidable, Hale has hope that it is something we can come back from.
“I think it comes down to the fact that people need more certainty,” Hale said. “If things settle down a little bit and if the economy recovers, which there are a lot of good reasons to believe it will, and if the vaccinations continue to work, we might, at that point, begin to see another boom.”