In May, 2009, Barcelona FC made it to the semi-finals in a major European (UEFA) football tournament. A last minute goal against London’s Chelsea FC decided the game and the city “rejoiced.” Nine months later, Barcelona’s birth rate spiked by 16%.
Somewhat similarly, we have blackout babies after an outage and furlough fertility from temporary layoffs. Why? Economists do have an explanation. But it might not be what you expect.
During four weeks in 2008, sections of the island of Zanzibar lost electricity. There were no lights and no TV. At home, people had more leisure time.
They also wound up having more babies.
Because parts of the island kept their power, a University of Oregon economist was able to compare fertility rates between those who did and did not have electricity. The data indicated that those without electricity had a 17% higher birth rate.
New York City
In several articles on the November 9, 1965 New York City outage, the NY Times suggests the birth rate went up. Comparing average births each day to those nine months after the blackout, they cited higher numbers. In one hospital, 11 births typically occurred daily but 28 were recorded nine months after the blackout. For another, the comparison was 29 to 20. (The statistical significance of the numbers has been questioned.)
One year after Hurricane Hugo struck, marriages and birth rates spiked in the 24 counties that were declared disaster areas. (Divorce rates were up too.) Similarly, for Hurricane Sandy which hit New Jersey hard, two local hospitals said deliveries were up. One reported a whopping 34% increase and the other, 20%.
Contrary to the Sandy data, another study concludes that the fertility rate was lower for the worst storms. Through a six-year study of 47 Atlantic and Gulf Coast counties, researchers reported that nine months after less severe storms, the birth rate increased. The effect though was most pronounced among people who already had one child but not for those without kids.
And yes, nine months or so after a federal shutdown, births did go up in several Virginia and Maryland hospitals.
Our Bottom Line: Elasticity
Although the conclusions about disaster babies vary, I wonder if the economic concept of elasticity can provide some insight. Related to demand, the elasticity just indicates how much more or less we would buy when price changes. If a price change generates a proportionally large rise or fall, then our demand is elastic. If the change is minimal, then we have inelasticity.
In the report on hurricanes in the South, economists hypothesized that childless couples in major storms have relatively inelastic demand for children. On the other hand, couples with children seem to find it easier to “stretch” family size during a disaster…
Or after a football game.
My sources and more: Thanks to Quartz for enticing me to read more about disaster babies. For some dependable data, I recommend this Zanzibar study and this academic paper on hurricanes. Then for blackout baby booms, the NY Times had some archived articles about higher birth rates while this one doubted the data’s significance. As for furlough fertility, the Washington Post had the story. However, for the best read, I recommend what Mashable reported on disaster babies.