The pandemic road, with data

Two years ago, when the pandemic was still fresh, I gave an interview on where the world was going in the pandemic, and stressed the importance of path dependence, or the way current events drive or constrain future trends. This was a way of making predictions without certainty, just suggesting directions. I’m glad to see I wasn’t drastically wrong on anything (yet). First a few of the points I made that seem relevant today, then a few graphs:

  1. Winners and losers: Early winners would compound advantages. I used Zoom as an example.
  2. Organizational cutbacks: Once employers learn how to live with fewer workers, they’ll maintain the cuts.
  3. Falling births: The US fertility rate was falling before the pandemic; I expected that to accelerate.
  4. Travel: Business travel (including academic conferences) would be harder to justify in the future, if we were able to live without them. I also expected a long-term decline in global travel, with bad implications for cultural interdependence and understanding.
  5. Staying home for work and play: “We will get used to the habits of staying home.”
  6. War: “It might seem crazy for countries to go to war at a time when national boundaries seem to matter less and less. But with the instability this has caused, and with our reliance on technology, a relatively small thing can set off huge cascading events, including flipping the switch on something like war.” Ugh.
  7. History: “Maybe history doesn’t have a direction. Maybe there is no arc that bends toward justice. Maybe there’s just a series of random events. This pandemic feeds that sense. That creates anxiety, and dread, but also opens up a world of possibilities for directions to change.”

Data

Here are data updates on a few trends related to these points.

Births. There is a lot of new research on what’s happening with birth rates, much of it just presented at the Population Association meetings this month, which I haven’t had time to summarize yet. Meanwhile, these are the trends for the US states where I have monthly data, and the US overall through June 2021. The general pattern is a decline that began before pandemic babies would have been born (mid-2020), a steep drop at the end of 2020, and then some rebound. Florida and Connecticut are back to pre-pandemic levels, but Arizona, California, Hawaii, Iowa, Ohio, and Oregon still have substantially lower numbers of births — as does the US overall, through mid-2021. (My data collection.)

International travel. The whole idea of moving past the pandemic, or the “pandemic phase,” doesn’t work if Americans can’t leave the country, because, like it or not, the rest of the world still exists. People who study travel can say a lot more about the types of travel, and reasons for the trends, but the bottom line for me is that Americans are still leaving the country a lot less than they were before the pandemic. The most recent data I see is through September 2021, and it shows the number of passengers leaving the US was still 55% below than the 2017-2019 average.

Movies. Do people still “go” to movies? Through early April, movie ticket sales are 40% below the same week in 2019.

Here’s another view on how people are seeing movies: Google searches for “movie times” (which seems relevant only if you’re going to a theater) and “new movies” (which covers interest in theaters and streaming). Maybe platforms have changed so that people don’t google “movie times” anymore — they were already trending down — but this is dramatic.

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