Are we in for a COVID-19 Baby Boom at the End of 2020?
If you’re quarantining at home with your spouse or partner, you’ve probably already heard your friends and family joking about a potential baby boom at the end of 2020. After all, what else is there to do when you’re stuck at home together, all day, for months on end?
If the thought has you running for your nearest reliable birth control method, you may be relieved to know that the COVID-19 baby boom speculation is just that. Just because you’re stuck at home under shelter-in-place orders doesn’t mean that you’ll be celebrating your own “Quaran-teen” in 2033—statistically, anyway.
What makes a baby boom?
“Baby boom” is a colloquial term to describe the population effect when a generation has a lot of children all at once (over two babies per 100 women, or more than 1% of the population), often as a result of a national or global event. The most well-known baby boom in America, of course, is the one after World War II. After soldiers returned home from the war in droves, the economy was booming, housing prices were affordable and it seemed like the perfect time to start a family. Over 78 million Americans were born during this time.
Other American baby booms include one after World War I, and a resultant “echo boom” when the Baby Boomer generation gave birth to their kids in the 1980s-1990s.
Maybe, baby—a COVID-19 baby blip
While some people will decide that the time is right to try for a child, or continue an unexpected pregnancy, we might see a lot fewer post-COVID-19 births than the jokes indicate. In fact, one computational social scientist believes that we’re more likely to see a “baby blip.” He predicts that there could be about 6,000 more births over the winter, or a 2% increase.
What’s the difference between now and the 1950s? First of all, although the shared national experience of a lockdown might enforce togetherness, the economy is in no way comparable to what it was in the 1950s. The unemployment rate has soared to over 20% in America, with 26.5 million jobs lost since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. If that sounds like a terrible environment in which to have a baby, you’re in the statistical majority—births decrease during times of economic uncertainty.
The stringent quarantine requirements and restrictions placed upon expectant mothers are yet another deterrent to couples considering children.
When you consider that we have better access to reliable contraception, that many couples are unable to see each other due to the lockdown and the uncertainty surrounding access to healthcare and a vaccine, it makes sense that we probably will not see a significant baby boom this winter.
Sadly, biology may play a part, too. In times of distress, there is an increase in pre-term births and miscarriages. Pregnant people are advised to avoid stress as much as possible, which has long been associated with miscarriage and complications. When the future is uncertain, especially regarding employment and housing, it is much harder to carry a pregnancy to term.
The pandemic may lead to more home births, however. With the anxiety surrounding potential infections and separation from the baby, midwives are seeing an increase in requests for assistance during home birth.
Will there be a divorce boom?
There might not be a baby boom, but some experts are predicting that there will be a divorce boom. One factor: domestic abuse claims tend to skyrocket when families spend more time within close quarters, such as during the winter holidays and now during the lockdown. In fact, there have been increased reports of domestic abuse in cities with shelter-in-place orders.
However, enforced togetherness can bring up other tensions, especially if one or both spouses are dealing with unemployment or simply coping with being around each other 24/7. Suddenly, what could be worked through in normal times is a straw to break the camel’s back—or the increased time spent together highlights drastic differences in household labor.
Typically, divorce rates go up after times of crisis. In fact, we’re already seeing an increased divorce rate in China now that shelter-in-place restrictions are easing. Record-high numbers of divorces were reported in Xian and Dazhou, and we can expect those numbers to remain steady for a time to come.
Fewer babies and more divorces sound bleak, but if you’re married or trying for a child, there’s no need to panic. Most of these tensions and concerns predated the pandemic. COVID-19 is simply highlighting another area of American life undergoing drastic and sudden change.