Having spent a few months collecting data on birth rates over the last year, and a few months pouring over pandemic data, I took the time to bring the two together and assess the relationship between some basic pandemic indicators and the latest fertility outcomes. The result is a short paper I titled, “Baby Bust: Falling Fertility in US Counties Is Associated with COVID-19 Prevalence and Mobility Reductions,” now available on SocArXiv, with links to the data and Stata code for replication.
Here’s the abstract:
The United States experienced a 3.8 percent decline in births for 2020 compared with 2019, but the rate of decline was much faster at the end of the year (8 percent in December), suggesting dramatic early effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which began affecting social life in late March 2020. Using birth data from Florida and Ohio counties through February 2021, this analysis examines whether and how much falling birth rates were associated with local pandemic conditions, specifically infection rates and reductions in geographic mobility. Results show that the vast majority of counties experienced declining births, suggestive of a general influence of the pandemic, but also that declines were steeper in places with greater prevalence of COVID-19 infections and more extensive reductions in mobility. The latter result is consistent with more direct influences of the pandemic on family planning or sexual behavior. The idea that social isolation would cause an increase in subsequent births receives no support.
Here’s the main result in graphic form, showing that births fell more in January/February in those counties with more COVID-19 cases, and those with more mobility limitation (as measured by Google), through the end of last May:
However, note also that births fell almost everywhere (87% of the population lives in a fertility-falling county), so it didn’t take a high case count or shutdown to produce the effect.
There will be a lot more research on all this to come, I just wanted to get this out to help establish a few basic findings and motivate more research. I’d love your feedback or suggestions.
Earlier updates and media reports are here.