The pandemic could lead to a ‘baby bust’ of almost half a million fewer births, a major think tank projects

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There could be almost half a million fewer births next year. Crystal Cox/Business Insider; Samantha Lee/Business Insider
  • Brookings Institute economists predict that the coronavirus pandemic will lead to what they call a “baby bust,” or a decline in pregnancy and birth rates.
  • In fact, the pandemic could result in 300,000 to 500,000 fewer births next year, according to Melissa S. Kearney and Phillip Levine, coauthors of the Brookings report.
  • Wharton Professor Mauro Guillen warned in a LinkedIn post that this has dire implications for the economy, projecting the over-60 population will be the largest consumer group by 2030, by which time the Social Security Trust Fund Ratio will fall below the 100% financial adequacy level, per a federal projection.
  • While some have joked about the potential of a pandemic baby boom as couples are holed up together, Kearney and Levine note that speculation about baby booms after events like blizzards or blackouts often does not hold up.
  • Instead, economic loss, insecurity, and uncertainty are the primary reasons that the pandemic will lead to a decrease in births. The 1918 Spanish Flu led to a decline in birth rates – because of war manufacturing, there wasn’t a recession then, only an economic contraction.
  • The US fell into a recession in February amid the coronavirus pandemic and the shutdowns it necessitated. The unemployment spiked to 14.7% in April, well above the 10% peak during the Great Recession peak. While it has come down through the summer, it remains over 10% heading into September.
  • The Great Recession also led to a large drop in birth rates, with a drop of almost 400,000 fewer births from 2007 to 2012.
  • “A deeper and longer lasting recession will then mean lower lifetime income for some people, which means that some women will not just delay births, but they will decide to have fewer children,” Kearney and Levine write.
  • A decline in birth rate could hurt the economy in the long term, as smaller workforces must takeover the cost to care for ageing populations. In Japan, experts already worry a pandemic-fuelled baby bust could worsen the country’s ageing crisis that strains the working population.
  • Brookings found states with more severe recessions had larger declines in birth rates.
  • Kearney and Levine write, “As any parent will tell you, children come at a cost. They require outlays of money, time, and energy.”
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