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Report: Pandemic Caused Smaller ‘Baby Bust’ Than Expected

Provisional data on the number of births in the United States showed that the COVID-19 pandemic might have had less of an impact on a “baby bust” than was originally anticipated. 

The Wall Street Journal reported that the United States experienced around 7,000 fewer births in the initial nine months of 2021 when contrasted with the same time period a year before, per provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

“Starting in June 2021, monthly births began to show consistent gains over their year-earlier levels, which reflect pre-pandemic conceptions, and that mostly offset declines in the first two months of 2021, the data show,” the Journal noted, adding that the 2021 numbers are nationwide provisional estimates and “[t]he federal government will issue a final count later this year, a CDC spokesman said. The provisional data are rounded to the nearest thousand and might differ from the final numbers by as much as 2%, according to the NCHS.”

Some experts believed the COVID-19 pandemic would have a much larger impact on the birth rate across the country. In December, economists Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine reportedly put forward numbers demonstrating how the pandemic resulted in 60,000 missing births from October 2020 through February 2021. “Earlier in the pandemic, they predicted the health crisis and economic uncertainty would lead to 300,000 to a half million fewer births last year,” the outlet added. 

“The Covid baby bust doesn’t seem to be nearly as large as I thought it would be,” said Kearney.

In September of last year, the U.S. Census Bureau reported, “There were 285,138 births in December 2020 — 23,664 (7.66%) fewer than in December 2019. On average, there were 763 fewer births each day in December 2020 than in December 2019.”

This seemed to change in early 2021, however. The decline in births slowed down, possibly due to the fact that people delayed having children. “Births declined only 0.15% between March 2020 and March 2021. This is substantially smaller than the 0.91% drop from March 2019 to March 2020,” the bureau added.

The Census Bureau was quick to point out that all of the declines in births shouldn’t be blamed on the pandemic due to birth rates going down over the last several years.

In May of 2021, Pew Research reported, “In 2019, there were 58.3 births for every 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 in the U.S., down from 59.1 in 2018, making it the fifth consecutive year in which the fertility rate declined.”

The Journal reported that in 2020, the number of babies born in the country was the lowest in forty years. “The total fertility rate that year—a snapshot of the average number of babies a woman would have over her lifetime—fell to 1.64, the lowest rate on record since the government began tracking it in the 1930s,” it added.

Additionally, other countries saw similar numbers with regard to a drop-off in births and then a small uptick around the pandemic. “Twenty-one of the 30 countries with monthly data through March 2021 had fewer births in December 2020 than in 2019 but more births in March 2021 than in March 2020,” the bureau noted. 

Some point to COVID-19 government assistance as a contributing factor to the lesser effect of the pandemic on the birth rate, while others note that the change in life experienced by many young families because of the pandemic could result in a more permanent trend.

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