- During lockdowns, there was much speculation about the impact COVID-19 would have on families.
- Ultimately, fewer people got married during the pandemic.
- What some predicted would be a baby boom was a bust; in fact, birth rates have sharply dropped.
With partners spending so much time together at home, some people wondered if we might have a mini baby boom. But it didn’t exactly work out that way. Instead, we now have the lowest birth rate in 50 years.
Over the last few years, I have been interviewing singleton parents and adult only children as part of The Only Child Research Project. One of the questions I’ve asked is, “How do you think the pandemic will affect people having babies?” Only children's and only-child parents' observations reflect what we know about birth rates now and going forward.
Francine, a confirmed mother of one, said that to have a child during the pandemic is “an act of wild and unfounded optimism. During COVID, two of my friends were starting IVF. One went ahead; the other is in the depths of despair about bringing a child into this world right now.”
Ryan, a 44-year-old only child, believes climate change will reduce family size. In his mind, “It’s the biggest influence. Resources are limited and children take up a lot of them. As people become more sensitized to the increasing environmental disasters, climate will be a deterrent to having kids.”
Beyond worries that have been exacerbated by COVID-19 related to finances, job security, and, for many, their age or health concerns, another fear creating hesitation is, as Ryan noted, climate change, with its mounting disasters. Consider the massive fires we’ve had in the West and the extreme number and severity of hurricanes.
Researchers looked at how the emotional turmoil and stress of being pregnant during a natural disaster affects a baby in utero. They followed children whose mothers carried them during Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and found that those children “had substantially increased risks for depression, anxiety and attention-deficit and disruptive behavior disorders. The symptoms of these disorders presented when the children were preschool-age.” The authors acknowledge that more research is needed in this area.
More Babies After COVID?
The birth-rate numbers since coming out of what we hope was the worst of COVID-19 indicate that more people chose not to have a child. Although we can’t predict exactly what’s going to happen with COVID-19 and its variants in the future, new reports suggest that the U.S. birth rate will continue to decline. Currently, it hovers around 1.7 children per woman, lower than the replacement level of 2.1. That could be due, in part, to a modest marriage rate leading to fewer families being formed. In the years 2020 and 2021, only about 30 out of every 1,000 unmarried adults tied the knot.
As in the United States, China’s marriage and birth rates are at an all-time low. Atypically, China now allows dating apps with the hope that they will encourage more marriages and babies.
With fewer marriages, anxiety about the economy, and worries about bringing children into a world experiencing dramatic climate change, we have an answer to the question: “More babies after COVID?“ According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data based on birth certificates, “During the pandemic, the U.S. birth rate experienced its largest single-year decease in nearly 50 years.” With women waiting longer to start their families and families getting smaller, it would seem we are not likely to see a marked uptick in births anytime soon.
Copyright @2022 by Susan Newman
Nomura Y, Newcorn JH, Ginalis C, Heitz C, Zaki J, Khan F, Nasrin M, Sie K, DeIngeniis D, Hurd YL. (2022) “Prenatal exposure to a natural disaster and early development of psychiatric disorders during the preschool years: stress in pregnancy study.” Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry. Sep 21.
Wang, Wendy, W. Bradford Wilcox, Lyman Stone. (2022). “New Census Data: Key Takeaways on Divorce, Marriage, and Fertility in the U.S.” Institute for Family Studies: September 22.
Newman, Susan. (2020). “COVID-19 Puts Babies on Hold: The pandemic has many reconsidering how many children to have.” Psychology Today, August.