Government lockdowns may have caused the “first major reversal” in nearly two decades for the American fertility rate. This is according to a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Economists Martha Bailey, Janet Currie, and Hannes Schwandt noted in their analysis that forecasts originally predicted a dramatic baby bust of 300,000 children to 500,000 children as a result of the lockdowns. Instead, births declined by only 76,000 more than the baseline, while American-born mothers saw a net increase in births of roughly 46,000 children by 2021.
The “baby bump” was therefore the first salient disruption to falling American birth rates since 2007. It was also “large enough to reverse two years of declining fertility rates,” according to the working paper. The trend was most noticeable among mothers experiencing their first births and women under 25.
“Early data from California shows the baby bonus has persisted through August 2022,” Bailey noted, adding that the researchers are still awaiting nationwide statistics. “Elevated birth rates for younger women also suggest that the long decline in childbearing for this group may be shifting.”
Many commentators have discussed the economic and cultural ramifications of declining birth rates in America. Other nations, including China and Russia, have recently implemented policies meant to encourage higher fertility. China has eliminated its notorious one-child policy and Russia has enacted financial incentives for women who build large families.
According to the research, the number of births in the United States increased for the first time in more than seven years as of 2021, marking a 1% overall rise in births from 2020. In contrast, fertility declined by 4% between 2019 and 2020.
The paper also showed that the baby bump was also pronounced among women between 30 and 34 years, and women between 25 and 44 years old who had received a college degree. Highly educated individuals were “more likely to retain their jobs” during the lockdowns and transition to virtual work.
Meanwhile, abortion facilities were “disrupted” or “completely shut down.”
“We think that increased flexibility in the workplace could be a major driver,” Currie explained. “We know that about 40% of days worked are still being worked from home as of June 2022. Also, we see the biggest fertility increases among college-educated women, who are more likely to be able to work from home. These findings highlight the time costs of having children and the value parents place on the ability to work from home.”