As couples and full families around the world were told to stay indoors when the COVID-19 lockdowns began in many countries last March in response to the pandemic, many people wondered if the free time, isolation, and lack of outside activities would later result in an increase in births.
However, recent statistics have shown that the so-called pandemic baby boom did not occur in most countries. As it turned out, the opposite happened. While this could be due to stress, cabin fever, or the inevitable relationship troubles that occur with being with the same people all the time, birth rates have steadily declined through 2020 into 2021, and they continue to fall. The decline is also significant. According to a report published by the Brookings Institute, an independent think-tank located in Washington DC, “the decline in births could be on the order of 300,000 to 500,000 fewer births next year” in the United States alone.
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There is never any one reason for a decline in birth rates, but it is uncanny that the population is not only being diminished by the pandemic itself but by the economic and social results of the lockdowns and stress that has come from them. One thing is for sure, the United States isn’t alone in this decline.
Many other countries have seen a similar fall in their birth rates during the pandemic. The United Nations World Population Prospects report shows a decline of 1.67% in the birth rate between 2021 and 2020 in South Africa, as well as a decline of 1.64% between 2019 and 2020. While birth rates declined less globally in 2020 when compared to 2021, children born in 2020 were predominantly conceived in 2019, before the pandemic had begun and people were forced to physically distance and shelter in place with their families.
The Trends Of Declining Birth Rates
Experts suggest that the pandemic has only exacerbated pre-existing declines in the birth rate in developed countries around the world. A US government study on trends of declining birth rates in developed countries suggests that reasons for the decrease include “the social structure, religious beliefs, economic prosperity and urbanisation” of developed nations, as well as “abortion rates” and that “lifestyle choices associated with economic affluence where mortality rates are low.”
With birth rates already going down, the pandemic has only added to these factors, dissuading pregnancy in young couples by introducing uncertainty towards the future and financial circumstances of individuals and families. A similar decrease in birth rates occurred during the Great Recession in 2009, during which “14% of Americans surveyed ages 18 to 34 and 8% of those 35 to 44 were postponing having a child,” according to the Pew Research Center. When times are tough, people have less children.
“People make long-term decisions when they have confidence about the future,” Philip Cohen, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland told reporters at NBC, “and if there’s anything that undermines confidence about the future, it’s this massive pandemic.” It has become clear that the virus itself isn’t the only thing decreasing the population of various countries including the United States. The full results are yet to be known.
Lasting Economic Consequences
The decrease in birth rates doesn’t just mean young couples are being forced to wait an extra year or two to start raising a family either. The absence of children who would have otherwise been born during the pandemic may have lasting economic consequences in the future, which will further discourage children.
“These people who would have been born 20 years from now will not be entering the workforce,” says Dr. Mike Seeborg, an economist at Illinois Wesleyan University. He adds that “the decline in the birth rate means a decline in the working-age population.”
A country’s economic growth is measured by the net value of goods the country is able to produce in a year, otherwise known as that country’s annual GDP, or gross domestic product. One of the most important factors increasing a country’s GDP is by increasing the size of the country’s available human capital, otherwise known as the labor force.
A decrease in the birth rate now means fewer adults will be able to add value to the overall production of a country in the future, as well as fewer people to pay taxes and contribute to social security plans. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. With automation and other technologies to do jobs humans used to do, less people will be needed to do those occupations. Most developed countries already experience slow growth compared to developing countries where birth rates remain high. Seeborg suggests the one possible solution could be implementing “expanded child care assistance” policies, to make raising a child much less cost-prohibitive in both money and time for parents.
Babies Born During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Although the pandemic has seen declining birth rates, many children are still being born, often with unique complications and challenges due to severe limitations on hospital availability and infrastructure posed by the virus. Some new parents aren’t being allowed to have their partners in the delivery room with them without a recent negative COVID test, and hospitals in South Africa have banned non-essential workers such as doulas from being present in the maternity ward.
While birth rates have collapsed, fertility test rates have soared. Birth rates have declined and the demand for fertility tests has greatly increased. It is expected to get larger, with 719 million worldwide by 2027. The pandemic has led to decreases in pregnancies, but it is expected to decline further even after it is over. The demand for fertility tests will remain.
The planet is already overpopulated, which will continue to be a problem for years to come. Resources on Earth are limited. Water will run out. We are putting too much pressure on the planet. Technology will lead to less jobs for humanity. Overpopulation is one of the biggest, if not the biggest problem in the world. No one is saying that the COVID-19 pandemic or the resulting lockdowns are a good thing, but biology may continue to keep our population in check as we become more and more of a hindrance to life on Earth in general and to ourselves in specific.