WASHINGTON, D.C. – It’s no surprise that U.S. mortality rates skyrocketed since the coronavirus outbreak, but Census officials are puzzled that birth rates in America also declined during the same period.
Provisional monthly data collected by the U.S. Census show a steep downturn in births during the winter of 2020-2021, according to Anne Morse, a demographer in the Estimates and Projection Area of the Census Population Division.
“The winter decrease in births may have been prompted by couples who consciously chose to delay having children amid the uncertainty of the pandemic,” Morse acknowledges. “It may also have been influenced by stress or limited physical interaction with a sexual partner.”
It is also possible, Census analysts suggest, that the pandemic led to a higher rate of conceptions not being carried to full term.
On average, U.S. birth rates have been declining every year since 2008 when the housing bubble burst, spinning the economy into a deep recession. From 2010 to 2019, for example, the number of daily births in the United States dropped by an average of about 1 percent per year.
But Census data indicates that the decline in the number of births was much steeper in 2020 after the outbreak of the pandemic. The average number of daily births was down by 4 percent, with an especially noticeable decline during the summer months.
Census officials are particularly concerned about monthly birth data from December 2020 and January 2021. Since the coronavirus pandemic was officially declared to be a national emergency in March of 2020, babies conceived after that declaration would be born during or after the first week in December 2020 or thereafter.
Census officials also emphasize that there is a seasonal pattern to U.S. births. The number of births here normally increases in the spring, peaks in the summer, declines in the fall and is lowest in the winter.
Even in the absence of the pandemic, Census demographers routinely anticipate that the U.S. births would be lower in December and January.
“But comparing one month during the pandemic to the same month prior to the pandemic shows a substantial drop (in births) that can’t be explained by seasonality,” Morse explains. “There were 285,138 births in December 2020 – that’s 7.66 percent fewer than in December of 2019.
“On average, there were 763 fewer births each day in December 2020 than in December 2019.”
Monthly comparisons of birth data for January 2021 show a year-to-year decline of nearly 9.5 percent and the decline was even steeper in February 2021.
But the birth rate decline began to slow in March of 2021. That decline between March 2020 and March 2021 was only .15 percent, compared to a .91 percent decline between March 2020 and March 2019.
But Census analysts are still closely watching monthly data to see if the current resurgence of the pandemic will again impact U.S. birth rates.
“It’s still too soon to make broad conclusions about the pandemic’s effect on U.S. birth trends,” Morse emphasizes. “As time passes and more data become available, we will gain a better understanding of how the pandemic impacted fertility and will shape the size and composition of our nation’s population in the future.”