Study Finds Birth Rates Plummeted During COVID-19

Surprisingly enough, the pandemic did not entice couples to get busy in wealthy countries.

Originally Published: 
An empty baby bed in a hospital

A new study has found that the COVID-19 pandemic is linked to a decline in birth rates in high-income countries across the world — and not by a small margin.

Per the authors, the pandemic “has been accompanied by a significant drop in crude birth rates beyond that predicted by past trends,” in seven out of the 22 countries that were included in the study.

To extrapolate the birth rate, the researchers, led by social scientist Arnstein Aassve, calculated the ratio between monthly live births and mid-year population. They then multiplied the results by 1,000 and then by 12. The authors also accounted for pre-existing trends in birth rate and the fact that there’s a seasonal aspect to birth — in the United States, for example, July through October are the most popular birth months. September 9 is the most common birth date on the planet, and September is a very popular birth month globally.

That the birth rate dropped is not so surprising at first glance. In the United States, for example, the birth rate has been declining for over a decade; since 2007, the birth rate has declined by 28 percent in the country. But the study found a drop in the crude birth rate in nearly every country studied, with the exception of Denmark, Finland, Germany, and the Netherlands, among others.

In the most precipitously affected countries, the birth rate dropped by 9.1 percent in Italy, 8.5 percent in Hungary, 8.4 percent in Spain, and more than 6.5 percent in Portugal. Other countries like Belgium, Australia, and Singapore also had birth rates plummet. In November and December of 2020, the United States experienced a 7.1 percent decline in the crude birth rate compared to the same time period in 2019.

For some of the countries like the Netherlands that didn’t have a significant reduction in crude birth rate, the researchers posit that this stability has a lot to do with their policies that support families and their ability to maintain employment.

The data the researchers used was only about the first wave of COVID-19, so the study’s implications are limited. But as more data comes out about the birth rate throughout the pandemic, policy-makers should take note — and consider the “potentially moderating impact of policy interventions” like free child care, affordable health care, good-paying jobs, and other policy interventions that are good for families.

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