In the thick of 2020, when COVID-19 was unearthing vast unemployment and breeding global uncertainty, the U.S. saw a peculiar trend. Instead of the anticipated sharp decline, fertility rates dropped only marginally. Key takeaways from a new study, The COVID-19 baby bump in the United States (Martha J. Bailey, Janet Currie, and Hannes Schwandt) tell a fascinating story California’s fertility rates.
1) In 2020, foreign-born mothers saw the most significant decline in childbearing. However, 2021 brought a surprising shift: an increase in childbirths among US-native women, particularly within specific demographics. This trend sustained, with California’s fertility rate witnessing a marked rise until February 2023.
2). In 2020, the decline in birth rates exhibited a different timeline for foreign-born mothers compared to US-native mothers, with the former experiencing a dip earlier. Contrary to historical trends, the COVID-19 recession didn’t immediately lead to a significant decrease in fertility rates. Instead, 2020 saw an unexpected increase in births, representing the most notable reversal of the declining fertility trend since the 2008 recession.
Breakdown: According to the study, the economic countermeasures against the pandemic have a massive impact. Emergency and long-term federal unemployment benefits have softened California’s fertility rate downswing accompanying job loss. With poverty rates dropping across various demographics thanks to these relief measures and the recession’s relatively short sting on employment, the fertility landscape experienced a unique shakeup.
The study delved into other contributing factors:
- New work dynamics, including remote roles and enhanced pandemic assistance, might have swayed child-rearing decisions.
- While some women contemplated postponing or bypassing parenthood altogether due to the pandemic, others found the isolation a nudge to start families.
- Factors like maternal stress, diminished reproductive healthcare access, and fluctuating pregnancy desires were all part of this complex equation, as evidenced by Google Trends data.
The demographic breakdown presented distinct patterns:
- A remarkable “baby bump” was visible among first-time mothers and women below 25. This suggests that the pandemic prompted some women to kickstart their families sooner.
- Conversely, college-educated women above 25 displayed an uptick in fertility, possibly enjoying the luxury of remote work and lesser childcare chaos.
- However, the scales tipped the other way for African American women, who bore a heavier brunt of the recession and health crises.
- Foreign-born mothers saw a significant fall in births during early 2020, possibly impacted by curbs on “birth tourism” and international travel restrictions affecting migration for employment.
Wrapping it up: The study talks about a small baby boom in the U.S. and how things like social spending, flexible jobs, and working from home helped. It points out that African American women had it harder during the COVID crisis, the brunt of the crisis’s financial and health impacts, and we need serious policies to address.
The Problem is: More evidence is popping up that increased social spending and flexible work arrangements, including remote work, can positively impact fertility rates, as shown in California. Yet, influential figures in California like Elon Musk and other Silicon Valley “pronatalists”, are against these measures and more. Their opposition to remote work, work flexibility, and social spending, coupled with efforts to hamper new infrastructure projects and drive up housing costs. They will not make it easy to do what’s needed.