When millions of Americans were forced to hunker down in quarantine after the coronavirus pandemic broke out, it quickly became a popular joke that, for many couples, the time spent indoors together would naturally trigger a COVID-19 baby boom. After all, there are only so many jigsaw puzzles and binge watches to stave off boredom, right?
In fact, baby booms are a fairly common assumption when it comes to blizzards, blackouts, or any other phenomenon that result in folks staying indoors—though, as it turns out, it’s a misleading one.
According to the New York Times, researchers have been investigating this so-called phenomenon for decades, after several articles alluded to “a sharp increase in births” nine months following the great northeast blackout of 1965. However, in 1970, sociologist J. Richard Udry, who studied the biological and sociological factors affecting human behavior, published a paper that found “no increase in births associated with the blackout.”
Despite the findings of the study, people apparently still love to romanticize these type of events, leading Udry to come to a separate conclusion that it was “evidently pleasing to many people to fantasy that when people are trapped by some immobilizing event which deprives them of their usual activities, most will turn to copulation.”
The financial crisis isn’t helping a potential COVID-19 baby boom
Apart from Udry’s findings, birthrates in the United States have been steadily declining since the Great Recession, when millions of people lost their jobs and homes—eliminating the very financial stability that is necessary, or even preferable, for raising a family. As a result, the U.S. saw a drop of almost 400,000 births from 2007-2012.
Now, as nearly 10 million Americans have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, it only makes sense that couples of childbearing age may be even more hesitant to start a family.
“Many people in childbearing ages were already worried about their futures, and now they may face unemployment as well,” said Jennifer Johnson-Hanks, a sociology professor at the University of California, told the New York Times. “That kind of anxiety is not conducive to having a child.”
“I really don’t think they’re saying, ‘Oh, let’s have a baby in the midst of the greatest epidemic that the country has faced in 100 years,’” added Kenneth Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire.
Johnson predicted that an increase in births may be possible in the next few years, but only if people can recover from “the disorientation of the recession and the pandemic.”
“The pandemic and its economic and social aftermath may well have long-term repercussions unlike any we have seen in the past,” Johnson continued. “This has implications for fertility that are difficult to determine given we haven’t had anything like this happen in a hundred years.”
Economists at the Brookings Institute believe that the U.S. should expect 300,000-500,000 fewer births in 2021 because of the financial crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Health concerns of a COVID-19 pregnancy
The coronavirus may also cause women to be more apprehensive about access to natal care—as epidemiologists still see no end in sight to the pandemic. It’s also hard to predict what hospitals in the U.S. will look like a year from now. In areas like New York City, where hospitals were overrun with COVID-19 cases, some pregnant women have even decided to leave the city in favor of areas less affected by the virus.
To further complicate family planning during the pandemic, a study published by the CDC found that pregnant women may actually be at increased risk for severe COVID-19 illness.
Mary Jane Minkin, OB/GYN and clinical professor at Yale University, told USA Today that with so many unknowns about the virus, most of her patients are erring on the side of caution. “If people do have the luxury of waiting and are still early in the process, I think waiting is what most people opt toward and understandably so,” Minkin said.
In fact, a reproductive survey that was conducted by the Guttmacher Institute from April 30-May 6 found that more than 40% of 2,000 cisgender women ages 18-49 have either changed their plans about when to have children or how many children they plan to have, due to the pandemic.
Nurx, a digital health clinic that serves more than 250,000 patients, said that there has been a 50% increase in patient requests for birth control, as well as a 40% increase in emergency contraception requests.
“Whether to have a child for the first time or another child … that’s something people are feeling it isn’t the time to explore,” said Nurx spokesperson Allison Hoffman.