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The pandemic baby bust is a lot smaller than expected

mother baby
Brookings anticipated 300,000 to 500,000 fewer babies due to the pandemic. But the most recent data available puts that number at 60,000.

  • There are 60,000 fewer babies because of the pandemic, per Brookings.
  • It’s way less than the Institute previously forecasted — 300,000 to 500,000.
  • It indicates a smaller baby bust than expected, but data for children conceived during the first pandemic winter still isn’t available.

If it weren’t for the pandemic, America would have 60,000 more babies.

So finds recent research from Brookings Institute that estimated the number of “missing births” based on the shortfall between actual births and predicted number of births between October 2020 and February 2021 (meaning babies that were conceived between January 2020 and May 2020). 

“Births returned to pre-pandemic trend levels in March 2021, indicating that conceptions returned to pre-pandemic trend levels in June 2020,” wrote the report’s authors, Melissa S. Kearney and Phillip Levine.

The number of missing births might actually be larger, considering that data for births conceived during last winter’s wave of the pandemic isn’t yet available. But, so far, the data that is available indicates the pandemic baby bust isn’t quite the bust it was thought to be. 

Typically, birth rates decline during economic recessions. They also tend to drop during a a public health crisis, evidenced by the Spanish Flu. Since the pandemic lumped together both economic and health turmoil, experts worried it could result in a greater impact on births. 

In June 2020, Brookings predicted that the US could see 500,000 fewer babies born due to the pandemic. By that December, it had revised its forecast to 300,000 fewer births given the short-lived recession. Come May 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed tens of thousands of missing births in the last six weeks of 2020. It revealed the US birth rate had fallen by 4% from 2019 to 2020, the sharpest single-year decline in nearly 50 years and the lowest number of births since 1979. 

Compared to these predictions, births falling below trend by just 60,000 in the pandemic’s initial months is a bright spot in the economy.

Fewer babies are a new norm

Brookings identified a few factors contributing to this trend. States with higher unemployment rates saw a bigger decline in births, as did states with a higher number of COVID cases per capita by the end of March 2020.

However, the women who were most likely to not have a baby during this time fell into demographics that were relatively well-insulated from the economic shocks of the pandemic — highly educated women, women in their late 30s and early 40s, and those who already had a child. Kearney and Levine wrote this indicates that “pandemic-related factors beyond economic challenges were important drivers of the observed reduction in births.”

This latter finding is a continuation of pre-pandemic birth rate trends in which women are waiting to have children until a later age — or choose to have fewer kids or none at all. It’s a result of greater access to education and employment opportunities for women, a rise in their autonomy as they seek other paths in life or choose to first get their financial bearings together.

It put the US in line with worldwide birth rate trends, indicating that fewer babies are a new normal. Just because the baby bust was smaller than expected — and pregnancy tests sales have been on the rise, suggesting a return to more normal birth rates in the months to come — doesn’t mean we’re headed towards a millennial baby boom. 

Jennifer D. Sciubba, a demographer and the author of “8 Billion and Counting: How Sex, Death, and Migration Shape Our World,” previously told Insider that while it may seem like the birth rate is making a turnaround, it’s really just an effect of postponed demand.

“If people are feeling more optimistic about COVID prospects as vaccinations have improved, it doesn’t surprise me that they’d start acting on plans to grow their families,” she said.

Granted, we won’t know the full extent of the baby bust until winter 2020 to 2021 birth data become available. Omicron, too, might put a dent in Americans’ plans to resume babymaking. But a smaller baby bust is a good sign of an economy that has successfully weathered a pandemic storm.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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