When the pandemic first took hold in the United States, many joked that widespread lockdowns would trigger a “baby boom” and sky-high birth rates. But almost a year later, the opposite appears to be true.
Preliminary birth rate data provided to CBS News by 27 state health departments show an estimated 7.2% drop in births in December 2020, nine months after COVD-19 was declared a pandemic by the ‘World Health Organization. California, the most populous state, saw a 10.2% drop, falling to 32,910 births in December from 36,651 the previous year. At the same time, births fell 30.4% in Hawaii.
As birth rates have been declining for nearly a decade, Phil Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, said December’s drop was the biggest he had seen since the baby boom ended in 1964. .
“The magnitude of this is really big,” Cohen said in a telephone interview with CBS News. “Whether you think it’s good or bad to have a lot of kids, the fact that we suddenly have less means things aren’t going well for a lot of people.”
As more states report birth data, the rate of decline may change. Texas, which accounts for nearly 9% of the U.S. population, will not have December data until the end of March. Data on the birth rate for New York, the fourth most populous state, was only available until 2018.
“We don’t know if this is the start of a bigger drop over the next year or if it’s just a March shock,” Cohen said. “But I’m more inclined, based on the story, to think that the whole of next year will be very difficult for births.”
In June, the Brookings Institution hypothesized that the pandemic would cause 300,000 to 500,000 births in 2021, citing “huge economic losses, uncertainty and insecurity.” The think tank later revised the forecast to 300,000 due to “a labor market that has improved a little faster than expected,” but noted that new issues like widespread school closures and child care could also lead to fewer births.
Among the 31 states with annual data, there were about 95,000 fewer births in 2020 compared to the previous year, a decline of about 4.4%, according to data compiled by CBS News. Every state reported a decline except New Hampshire, which reported four more births in 2020 compared to 2019.
The initial data areconducted at the start of the pandemic by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research group. The survey, released in May, found that about a third of women said they were delaying pregnancy or wanting fewer children because of the pandemic.
“What we’re seeing now are these attitudes manifesting in their actual behaviors,” said Laura Lindberg, the lead research scientist at Guttmacher who wrote the study.
Turbulent economic conditions and weak labor markets have always led to lower birth rates. But Lindberg says the drop resulting from the pandemic is much larger than one would normally expect; following the Great Recession, birth rates fell only about 3%.
“The impact of COVID on our lives is unprecedented and it is far from over at this time,” Lindberg said in a telephone interview with CBS News. “Until people feel more confident in the economy and the state of the world, concerns about having children will continue.”