Government lockdowns enacted in response to the spread of COVID may have caused the “first major reversal” in nearly two decades for American fertility rates, according to a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.
The analysis, written by economists Martha Bailey, Janet Currie, and Hannes Schwandt noted that forecasts originally predicted a dramatic baby bust of 300,000 children to 500,000 children as a result of the lockdowns. Instead, births declined by only 76,000 more than the baseline, while American-born mothers saw a net increase in births of roughly 46,000 children by 2021.
The “baby bump” was therefore the first salient disruption to falling American birth rates since 2007 and was “large enough to reverse two years of declining fertility rates,” according to the working paper. The trend was most noticeable among mothers experiencing their first births and women under 25, suggesting that many women were led to “start their families sooner” amid the phenomena of the past two years.
“Early data from California shows the baby bonus has persisted through August 2022,” Bailey noted to The Daily Wire, adding that the researchers are still awaiting nationwide statistics. “Elevated birth rates for younger women also suggest that the long decline in childbearing for this group may be shifting.”
Commentators have long discussed the economic and cultural ramifications of declining American birth rates. Other nations, including China and Russia, recently implemented policies meant to encourage higher fertility, with the former eliminating its notorious one-child policy and the latter enacting financial incentives for women who build large families.
Indeed, the number of births in the United States increased for the first time in more than seven years as of 2021, marking a 1% overall rise in births from 2020, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics. In contrast, fertility declined 4% between 2019 and 2020.
The baby bump was also pronounced among women between 30 and 34 years old, according to the working paper, as well as women between 25 and 44 years old who had received a college degree. Highly educated individuals were “more likely to retain their jobs” during the lockdowns and transition to virtual work. Wealthy families likewise experienced higher economic stability as equity from the housing market and stock market increased their prosperity. Meanwhile, abortion facilities were “disrupted” or “completely shut down.”
“We think that increased flexibility in the workplace could be a major driver,” Currie explained to The Daily Wire. “We know that about 40% of days worked are still being worked from home as of June 2022. Also, we see the biggest fertility increases among college educated women, who are more likely to be able to work from home. These findings highlight the time costs of having children and the value parents place on the ability to work from home.”
Most of the decline in births was seen among foreign-born and nonresident women, who accounted for 23% of births as of 2019. Because the decrease in fertility among foreigners and migrants began at the “very beginning of the pandemic,” the authors of the paper suggested that government travel restrictions and a sudden unavailability of economic opportunities in the United States may have led to the decrease.
Nevertheless, without foreign-born women, the overall American birth rate “would be much lower and closer to other low-fertility countries found in Europe or Japan.” While the European Union saw a fertility rate of 1.53 children per woman as of 2018, Japan saw 1.42 children per woman, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.