New data released by a number of states across the country show significant drops in birth rates, pointing to signs of what could be a broader baby bust amid the pandemic.
Last month, a Brookings Institution report reiterated an initial projection that the coronavirus pandemic would result in at least 300,000 fewer births in 2021. Data recently gathered by NBCLX from December 2020, when the first babies conceived during the pandemic would be born, are already showing signs of significant decline.
Compared to the same period a year earlier, a number of states that keep track of their births in near-real-time, such as Florida, reflected significant birthrate declines in December 2020. Ohio showed a decline of 7%, the Arizona birth rate fell by 5%, while in Florida, the drop was 8%.
“This is a bad situation,” Philip Cohen, a sociologist and demographer at the University of Maryland, told NBCLX. “The declines we're seeing now are … pretty substantial.”
Cohen’s research also shows declines in Google searches for pregnancy and sex-related topics and predicts the decline will likely last for months due to the economic uncertainty and other factors fueled by the pandemic.
“People make longterm decisions when they have confidence about the future, and if there's anything that undermines confidence about the future, it's this massive pandemic,” the demographer said.
In 2019, the U.S. birth rate fell to its lowest level in 35 years and Cohen said that one of the reasons for that is because more women have been working outside the home.
“One of the reasons we have falling birth rates is because women are deciding to spend less a percentage of their total lives raising children,” Cohen said. “So they have one or two children instead of three or four children. And they do a lot of other things in their lives … which is great for reducing gender inequality. (But) it comes with some challenges.”
Lyman Stone, a research fellow at the Institute for Family Studies and an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, who also predicted a pandemic induced decline in births, told the Catholic News Agency that he was not surprised by the data.
“Lockdowns communicate worry and a negative outlook on society, which motivates pessimism about fertility,” Stone told the publication, noting that he does “not see any reason to be optimistic” about the birth rate.
“If early data on January births shows a decline above 10-15% for that month, that would be a negative surprise,” he said. “Alternatively, if births remain far below trend after October 2021, that would also be very worrying,” he added.
He urged people not to allow the pandemic to dictate when they decide to become parents, however, because, “It’s always a good idea to have a kid.”