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Birth rate in the United States 2020: new data shows the effects of a pandemic


“We have been speculating on the impact of Covid on births for some time. This most recent CDC data provides our best opportunity to date to document what really happened, ”says Phillip Levine, professor of economics at Wellesley College.

Government reports released Wednesday provide no analysis on how Covid-19 is shaping these numbers. But Levine and other experts say there’s no question he’s playing a role – and that these numbers point to some ways the pandemic could shape our society for years to come.

Even before the pandemic, births in the United States were declining

Demographers said a combination of factors – fewer births, more deaths and less immigration – were already combining to slow the country’s population growth. Then the coronavirus pandemic struck, intensifying these trends.

Additional data released on Wednesday shows that the downward trend in births and fertility rates in the United States continues.

Last year there were 3.6 million births in the United States, down 4% from the previous year. After an increase in 2014, the number of births decreased by an average of 2% per year. This is the lowest number of births in the United States since 1979.

The birth rate in the United States fell for the sixth year in a row and hit a record high of 55.8 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, also a drop of 4 % compared to the previous year.

The new reports are based on provisional data, which includes more than 99% of birth certificates issued last year.

But what role does the pandemic play?

It’s hard to say at this point, given that birth rates have been declining for years, says Anne Driscoll, a demographer / statistician at the National Center for Health Statistics, lead author of the preliminary quarterly birth estimates released Wednesday.

“It is difficult to distinguish what could have been the potential decline after the pandemic. … The birth rate is down from previous quarters. It also fell from 2018 to 2019,” Driscoll said. “The general trend has not changed.”

Levine says he’s used quarterly CDC data to build an estimate of the impact of the pandemic so far. Based on the data, he estimates that the general fertility rate fell 8.6% at the end of 2020 (including the second half of November and all of December) due to Covid.

And new government data on the birth rate also shows that certain age groups – teens and women 35 and older – have been more affected than others, Levine says.

Couples can postpone childbirth when life is tough

The data released on Wednesday are provisional figures that could change. And experts noted that in terms of total births and fertility rates, the real impact of the pandemic will be seen in data for 2021, when all babies born have been conceived after the onset of the health crisis.

“The big question to all of this is, will this continue?” Levine said. “Is it a failure, or is it a downtrend that lasts longer?”

Already, there are indications that this trend will continue into 2021, including provisional data released by states, as Levine and co-author Melissa S. Kearney noted in a New York opinion piece. Times earlier this year.
Levine and Kearney predict that the United States could see a “baby bust” of 300,000 fewer births this year. The researchers say they incorporated economic data like unemployment rates as well as other factors, such as anxiety and social conditions, into their forecasts.

“We are in the midst of a significant economic decline. It tends to make people reluctant to have children. And a public health crisis creates enormous uncertainty in people’s lives,” says Levine.

Other factors in the mix: People who already have children find it difficult to balance work and home life while schools are closed, and forging relationships has been more difficult for people.

“All of these things are all happening simultaneously,” says Levine. “Overall, life is just tough these days. And having a baby when life is tough may not make sense.”

In some cases, couples who have postponed the birth of a baby until 2020 may try again in the future. But it depends on what happens next.

“The longer and more persistent the crisis, and the deeper and more lasting the resulting loss of income, the more likely it is that many of the missing Covid births will be lost forever,” Kearney and Levine wrote.

How this could shape the future of our country

Kenneth Johnson, a sociology professor and demographer at the University of New Hampshire, says it’s too early to say how long this fertility decline will last and whether birth rates will eventually return to pre-birth levels. pandemic or even start to increase beyond that. .

“No one knows, honestly. It’s such a unique situation,” he says.

But if you combine the lower births with the high number of deaths in the United States last year – over 3.3 million – and a decline in immigration, Johnson says the United States is already seeing “a significantly reduced population growth ”.

In total, 25 states recorded more deaths than births in 2020 – a record, according to Johnson’s analysis. In 2019, Johnson says, five states recorded more deaths than births.

“Even during the flu epidemic, we didn’t have anything like it. … Going from 5 to 25 is just amazing, ”he says. This trend is expected to continue in many states this year.

Birth rate in the United States 2020: new data shows the effects of a pandemic

The researchers ultimately hope to obtain more detailed data that will allow them to analyze how the pandemic affected birth rates in different groups, looking at factors such as age, race, socioeconomic status and geography. For 2021, this type of information will probably not be available until September 2022.

“Increments are going to appear along the way, which will help us fill in small pieces of the puzzle,” says Levine, “but we still have a long way to go in terms of data acquisition before we can answer the questions that arise. we are interested. “

The decline in births caused by the pandemic, after years of declining birth rates, could lead to significant changes in society, Levine says.

“The fact that it comes in the wake of a long continuous decline in births exacerbates its effects. In reality, it is not the 300,000 fewer births (because of Covid), it is the hundreds of thousands of fewer births each year that have substantial impacts on society, ”he said.

“This includes things like economic activity, the solvency of our pension system and other important social implications.”

Think about the huge societal impacts we saw after the baby boom of the 1950s.

“This,” says Levine, “has the potential to be the opposite of that.”

CNN’s Jamie Gumbrecht contributed to this report.

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