baby booms, baby busts

Is The Pandemic Baby Bust Over?

Two years into the pandemic, there’s been a small bump up in birth rates.

Man holding pregnant woman's belly while they're on the couch

At the start of the pandemic, when the stay-at-home orders were issued, many joked that the next baby boom was upon us. With couples spending nearly all of their hours sitting next to each other, there was an assumption that some would use that as an opportunity to sneak away for some fun – and that we’d see an increase in the birth rate as a result.

That’s not at all what ended up happening. It was quite the opposite, in fact, with birth rates dropping precipitously, following a trend of long-term decline. But now two years into the pandemic, there’s been a small bump back up in the birth rate. Does that mean the baby bust over?

According to CNN, the drop in birth rates in 2020 was one of the largest in decades — official U.S. data showed a 20 percent decline in the birth rate from 2007.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics reported a 4 percent decline in birth rate in 2020 from the previous year. While numbers have been on the decline for close to a decade, at most the birth rate has dropped by 2 percent on average. The doubling was startling, especially since there was a prediction of an increase with everyone home.

The reality is that birth rates have been on the decline for more than a decade, but the pandemic escalated the decline – at least temporarily.

But what do we make of the latest data that shows that birth rates did rise in 2021? First, it’s not as though the birth rate rose a lot. It rose just one percent. That’s still notable because “it was the first increase since 2014,” The Wall Street Journal reports, noting that “the rebound spanned age groups, with birthrates rising for every cohort of women age 25 and older.”

Does this mean the baby bust is over? Will those numbers continue to increase now? The answer is that we just don’t know yet. This could just be a quick rebound with people who put off having kids during the height of the pandemic when the health care system was overwhelmed and the outcome of where COVID-19 was heading wasn’t as clear. Though COVID-19 is certainly not gone, treatments and knowledge about the virus might be helping soon-to-be parents choose to start their families.

"That sort of suggests [that] when we saw the decline in births from 2019 to 2020, probably a lot of births were postponed," Dr. Brady Hamilton, from the NCHS Division of Vital Statistics and lead author of the report, told ABC News. "People were waiting to see what happened [with the pandemic] and rates rose in older women as they may have proceeded to have that child."

The report further outlined more details that pertain to birth rate, giving a larger picture of how birth rates may trend going forward. While we know this is the first time the birth rate has increased since 2014, more stratified data shows that birth rates among women aged 25 and older increased, while those aged 24 and younger decreased. Additionally, teen birth rates have hit a record low for kids aged 15 to 19. Unfortunately, preterm birth rates were up by 4 percent in 2021, which is the highest reported rate since 2007.