One of the most obvious effects of the novel coronavirus is that it has, so far, killed more than 165,000 Americans. Here’s another effect that has received much less attention: Some researchers believe there will be 300,000 to 500,000 fewer babies born in 2021 than if the pandemic never occurred.
“That means the number of babies never born is likely to greatly exceed the number of Americans who’ve died from the coronavirus...,” said a story in the Aug. 3 edition of Bloomberg Businessweek. “The effect on population will be longer-lasting as well: Many of the babies who aren’t being born would have lived into the 22nd century.”
The story includes a chart that makes plain America’s baby bust since 2007, when the number of births hit a four-decade peak of nearly 4.4 million. Since then, that figure has been on an almost straight line down, to 3.7 million last year.
If the Brookings Institution is correct in its prediction that the pandemic will prevent 300,000 or more births next year, this puts the United States in a serious bind when it comes to the steady population that is required to fuel a growing economy.
To put numbers to it, any country that wants to avoid losing population needs a birth rate of 2.1 children per woman (2 to account for the mother and father, and the fraction because a small percentage of children die). But in 2019 the U.S. birth rate was 1.7, and the virus appears set to drive that down even further next year.
The solution to this is obvious: Encourage couples to have more children. But it’s not just the coronavirus, which is a temporary setback. There are other significant roadblocks.
“Planning a family is a numbers exercise that factors in the age of the would-be mother, access to affordable child care, college costs, income and job security,” the Bloomberg story said. “Toss in a national health emergency and an economic crisis that invites comparisons to the Great Depression, and the benefits of parenthood no longer pencil out for many.”
To put it more bluntly, raising a child has become an expensive enterprise, and people are reacting by having fewer babies.
It’s impossible to blame them. Childcare alone is a huge challenge, especially for a single mother. And if the pandemic has emphasized one thing, it’s that job security will be a mystery over the coming months and perhaps years. No one knows how long it will take for all the jobs that disappeared this year to return — or how many new jobs will arise to take their place.
There are other factors as well. Many women are waiting longer to have a baby, probably because most of them are working. Logic also would say the fading ideal of a two-parent family is playing a role.
Eventually every downward trend reverses itself. One day, American women will start having more kids. But it does not appear that will happen soon.
— From The (McComb) Enterprise-Journal