We were not supposed to have had a baby boom during the pandemic.
But we did…sort of.
The Pandemic Baby Boom Surprise
The conventional wisdom and recent research tell us that births were down during the pandemic.
The October 2022 paper
Now though, looking more closely at the data, economists decided that it all depends on where you look.
For first births, women with a college degree or more, and women 30-34 years old, the baby bump was biggest. The reasons make sense. With stock markets up, they were wealthier. In addition, at home, women had more flexibility, more time to care for babies, and more help from partners that were home too.
As a result, U.S. born mothers had 6.2 percent more babies when compared to the 2015-2019 trend line. That means we are talking about a 46,000 baby bump. They attributed 91,000 fewer births in 2020-2021 to foreign-born women.
Or, as one of the co-authors of the study said, “It’s the first recession where we actually see birth rates go up,”
The April 2022 paper
Looking at the following data, you can see how both studies can be right. In their April 2022 working paper, researchers correlated conception dates and births with the Covid-19 pandemic. Looking nationally and at individual states, they concluded that unemployment, household spending, and the number of Covid cases each impacted the birth rate. After, the rebound did not entirely make up the decline:
It all reminds me of fractal mathematician Benoit Mandekbroit’s comment about the British coastline. From afar it looks like a straight line. But the closer you look, the more you see.
Our Bottom Line: Replacement Rates
A higher birth rate can mean a larger future labor force. Especially because the average age in the U.S. is rising, we will need more working people to support those of us who are receiving Social Security checks. Called a dependency ratio, we want the denominator/the labor force to be sufficiently large to support the numerator–the people over 65.
Instead though, between 2019 and 2020, births have declined by 4 percent. In addition, the 2020 TFR (total fertility rate) which needs to be 2100 births per 1000 women has been consistently below replacement since 2007. The total fertility rate declined to 1,641.0 births per 1,000 women in 2020.
You can see the dip:
There is hope though from California where researchers had more data. If the the baby bump seems to be continuing there, maybe the whole country has one?
My sources and more: Thanks to the Axios Today daily news podcast (that I enjoy during my walks) for alerting me to the baby boom. (Our featured image is from the Axios newsletter.) From there, I went to the new NBER paper on the baby boom and also this past Covid birth rate story. Then the CDC completed the picture.
Please note that some of today’s sections include parts of a past econlife post.