In the early days of the pandemic, with people confined to their homes, it wasn't unusual to hear predictions of an impending baby boom. But in an op-ed at the New York Times, two economics professors say the opposite is happening. The US is facing a "baby bust," write Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine. "The pandemic’s serious disruption of people’s lives is likely to cause 'missing births'—potentially a lot of them," they write. Their estimate is that the US will see 300,000 fewer births because of the pandemic. One big factor is easy to explain, and it's the same thing that happened in the Great Recession: When the nation struggles financially, the birthrate tends to decline as well. Based on the unemployment rate alone, the economists estimate the US could expect a 5.5% decrease in births.
But a drop of 300,000 births is more like an 8% decline. Why the bigger figure? A host of unusual factors. For one, closed schools have increased the burden on parents, effectively raising the "cost" of raising children, write Keaney and Levine. That surely has couples thinking twice about starting or adding to a family. Another factor is that pandemic restrictions have meant that relationships that might have begun in 2020 never had a chance to do so. "We have no precedent to estimate changes in birthrates from these disruptions, but they will undoubtedly also contribute to a large reduction in overall births," they write. A one-year blip would not mean much, but this drop comes as the national birthrate has been declining for years. Read the full column for more on the social and economic ramifications that might result. (Read more pandemic stories.)