Will Covid-19 Cause a Baby Boom — or Bust?

More than 40% of women are changing their procreational plans

Juno DeMelo
Elemental
Published in
7 min readDec 16, 2020

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Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

In late winter of 2020, when quarantine still seemed like it would last just long enough to binge The Crown, Americans busied themselves with making masks, sourdough, and — many joked — babies.

Fast-forward to summer, however, and the bloom was off the rose. In June, digital health clinic Nurx told USA Today they’d seen a 50% increase in requests for birth control from patients. That same month, the Brookings Institute estimated that there could be between 300,000 and 500,000 fewer births in 2021. Also in June, a survey by the Guttmacher Institute reported that because of the Covid-19 pandemic, more than 40% of women are changing their plans about when to have children or how many children to have; 34% of women are planning to get pregnant later or have fewer children. (Women belonging to groups experiencing systemic inequalities long before the pandemic were even likelier to report wanting to delay pregnancy or shrink the size of their brood.)

What gives?

Pre-Covid-19, birth rates were already declining in the United States, from 60.2 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 in 2017 — the lowest number in 30 years — to 59.1 in 2018 and 58.3 in 2019. Now, some women fear that if they were to get Covid-19 while pregnant, it could negatively affect their prenatal care, the health of their fetus, or even their birth. (While pregnant women who developed severe Covid-19 well into their third trimester were more likely to deliver prematurely, a recent study found that the vast majority of pregnant women who test positive will not develop health complications, and it’s unlikely that their babies will become infected.)

This isn’t the first time a public health scare would lead to a drop in births. According to a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, birth rates fell by 10% in the nine to 10 months following the peak in deaths caused by the Spanish flu of 1918. Weak economic conditions have also driven declines; the Great Recession led to a 9% drop in births between 2007 and 2012. This time around, not only is the economy badly damaged, but job losses are disproportionately affecting mothers. In fact, a Harvard Business Review analysis found that…

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