Has The COVID-19 Pandemic Affected The Birth Rate In The US?

When COVID-19 arrived on the scene in early 2020, many people assumed that lockdown would have the biggest impact on the lives of those who didn't get sick. Certain products were harder to get, many people had to drastically adjust their lives, and financial strain hit more people than it spared. But as we move through 2021, it has become clear that, despite the return to many parts of "normal" life, COVID-19 will have lingering and lasting effects.

One of those effects, as it turns out, may be on the birth rate. Throughout 2020, people joked that we would see a 2021 baby boom since so many people were stuck at home with their partners and little to keep their minds busy. It's the same joke that is said about most blizzards and blackouts. But, as Brookings explained in 2020, the jokes don't stand up to the data gathered after such events. This explanation was part of their prediction that 2021 would actually see a "baby bust," or a drop in birth rates. A drop of about 500,000 births, specifically.

Brookings wasn't alone in making this prediction. A study published in Frontiers in Public Medicine in December of 2020 also predicted a baby bust. The researchers pointed out that natural disasters actually lead to drops in birth rates, despite jokes and conventional wisdom to the contrary. It wasn't until earlier this month, however, that actual numbers began to appear revealing the pandemic's effect on birth rates.

Calculating the risks

Though specific numbers are still thin, a new study out of New York University Grossman School of Medicine provides the first concrete information on how COVID-19 has affected pregnancy plans. The study surveyed 1,179 mothers in New York City, all of whom had a child under three. As reported in NYU Langone Health, researchers found that about a third of women considering having another child reconsidered because of COVID-19. Of those who reconsidered expanding their families, less than half intended to resume their plans when they felt the pandemic was under control.

Researchers theorized that his sharp drop in planned pregnancies is caused by several factors. One could be the difficulty in caring for a child during a pandemic. As all of the mothers had at least one child under the age of three, the disruption to their planned child care and the struggle to make accommodations for more vulnerable family members during the outbreak could have led them to change their minds about having more children. Financial strain could have had a similar impact.

Increased parental age is another theorized cause. Because COVID-19 has caused a delay in the mothers' willingness to attempt a pregnancy, they may feel that they are past the safest age at which to give birth. The University of Rochester Medical Center states that the dangers associated with childbirth go up in women over 30. Such risks include high blood pressure, a difficult labor, and miscarriage, among others.