Update: This article has been updated with additional statuses reporting recent birth data.
When the pandemic first gripped the United States, many joked that the widespread lockdowns would lead to a “baby boom” and skyrocketing birth rates. But almost a year later, the opposite appears to be the case.
Interim birth rate data provided to CBS News by 29 state health departments shows an approximately 7.3% decrease in births in December 2020, nine months after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. 19. California, the most populous state, reported a 10.2% decline, dropping to 32,910 births in December from 36,651 the previous year. In the same time period, births decreased by 30.4% in Hawaii.
While birth rates have been falling for nearly a decade, Phil Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, said the December drop was the biggest he has seen since the baby boom ended in 1964.
“The scale of this is really big,” Cohen said in a telephone interview with CBS News. “Regardless of whether you think it is good or bad to have a lot of children, the fact that we suddenly have fewer means that things are not going well for many people.”
As more states report birth data, the rate of decline could change. Texas, which makes up nearly 9% of the US population, will not have December data until the end of March. Birth rate data for New York, the fourth most populous state, was only available until 2018.
“We don’t know if it’s the start of a bigger decline for the whole of next year or if it’s just a March shock,” Cohen said. “But based on history, I’m more inclined to think that the whole of next year is going to be way below births.”
In June, the Brookings Institution speculated that the pandemic would lead to 300,000 to 500,000 fewer births in 2021, citing “huge economic losses, uncertainty and insecurity.” The think tank later revised the forecast to 300,000 due to “a job market that improved somewhat faster than we anticipated,” but noted that new problems such as the widespread closure of schools and daycare centers could also lead to fewer births.
Among the 32 states that had annual data available, there were about 95,000 fewer births in 2020 compared to the previous year, a decrease of about 4.4%, according to data compiled by CBS News. All states reported a drop with the exception of New Hampshire, which reported four additional births in 2020 compared to 2019.
The initial data areconducted at the beginning of the pandemic by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research group. The survey, released in May, found that about a third of women said they were delaying pregnancy or wanted fewer children due to the pandemic.
“What we’re seeing now are those attitudes that show up in their actual behaviors,” said Laura Lindberg, Guttmacher’s lead scientific researcher and author of the study.
Historically, turbulent economic conditions and weak labor markets have led to declines in birth rates. But Lindberg says the drop from the pandemic is much larger than would normally be expected; In the wake of the Great Recession, birth rates only fell by about 3%.
“The impact of COVID on our lives is unprecedented and is far from over at this point,” Lindberg said in a telephone interview with CBS News. “Until people feel more secure about the economy and the state of the world, concerns about having children will continue.”