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: COVID-era ‘baby boom’ marks the first major reversal in declining fertility rates since 2007

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If think you’re seeing babies everywhere, there’s good reason.

A new paper confirms that there was an increase in births last year, primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We … found that the COVID pandemic resulted in a small ‘baby bump’ among U.S.-born mothers,” according to a paper circulated by the National Bureau of Economic Research on Monday.

Combining the 2020 fertility decline and the 2021 baby bump, the pandemic led to an increase in births among U.S. mothers, of around 46,000 children, the study concluded.

“The jump was partly due to the federal government spending billions on unemployment benefits, and the rise in remote work, a surge in stock-market prices and home values.”

“The 2021 baby bump is the first major reversal in declining U.S. fertility rates since 2007,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, Princeton, and Northwestern, analyzed overall U.S. births between 2015 and 2021, and births in California between 2015 and August 2022 to find the effect of the pandemic on child bearers.

The jump was partly due to the federal government spending billions on unemployment benefits, and the rise in remote work, a surge in stock-market prices and home values.

Lockdown effect on childbearing

Between 2007 and 2020, the fertility rate in America dropped. The U.S. total fertility rate, which is the average number of children expected over a woman’s lifetime, fell from 2.1 to 1.6, the researchers said.

That set “new records for historic lows” and promoted “widespread concerns about the future of the American family,” about the future of the labor force, and public programs associated with an aging population that younger generations may have to disproportionately shoulder.

When the country went into lockdown in 2020, there was a drop in fertility rates — at first, the researchers said.

But that was due to a sharp drop in foreign-born mothers who gave birth in the U.S., the researchers described, who accounted for 23% of all U.S. births in pre-pandemic 2019. Since lockdowns reduced travel, their fertility rate fell, which hit the overall birth rate in the U.S. at first.

Comparatively, when just looking at U.S.-born moms, the researchers found a “baby boom” which raised the total fertility rate beyond its pre-pandemic trend by 6.2% by the end of the year. It was also the first major reversal since the Great Recession, as seen in the chart below.

The purple line represents to U.S.-born mothers, while the green line represents foreign-born mothers giving birth in the U.S.

Screenshot from National Bureau of Economic Research working paper.

The baby bump was “most pronounced” for first-time moms under the age of 25. This suggests that many women decided to start their families sooner due to the pandemic, the researchers said.

The bump was also pronounced for college-educated women aged 30 to 34, likely due to their ability to work from home.

“Unlike any other economic downturn in recent history, the COVID-19 recession increased rather than decreased fertility among U.S.-born women,” the researchers concluded.

The bump could also be due to reproductive healthcare and abortion providers shutting down during the pandemic, which could’ve reduced fertility for older women, and also decreased unintended childbirth.

While the baby bump data is from California, it’s going to track the overall U.S. data “closely” the researchers stressed.

Are you a working mom and got thoughts on parenting, and juggling work and life? Write to MarketWatch reporter Aarthi Swaminathan at aarthi@marketwatch.com

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