Before the pandemic, Billijean Martiello and her husband might have considered a second child. But after working on the frontlines as healthcare workers, the Martiello’s, of New Hampshire, realized that they were perfectly happy being “one and done.”
“In the midst of the chaos of the world, we realized that our small triangle family was perfect for us. The three of us could weather the storm together, and we didn’t need, or want, another child,” Martiello told The Granite State News Collaborative. Her husband got a vasectomy over the summer, solidifying their decision.
Although people a year ago were joking about a quarantine baby boom — since everyone was stuck at home together — scientists soon predicted that the opposite would happen. Researchers predicted that as many as half a million fewer children would be born in 2021 then would have been if we weren’t dealing with COVID. They’ve since revised that down to about 300,000 fewer babies, but the impact is expected to be big.
Now, preliminary data shows that the pandemic has indeed caused birth rates to fall. In France, the birth rate is down about 20% over this time a year ago. The birth rate in China fell 15% in 2020, which was no surprise to make people on social media in the country.
“When you have no income, who would dare make another life?” one commenter wrote.
That exactly it — not only has the pandemic been terrifying, but the governmental response and support has been lackluster to say the least. Demographers agree that there’s a real concern about birth rates, which were falling even before the pandemic. If society has too few young members to support a booming elderly demographic, it can strain the economy and personal familial relationships. It’s really a social good to make sure that families are stable enough to feel like they can have more children.
One way to combat the baby boom would be to offer more support and assurance to families.
“All evidence points to a sharp decline in fertility rates and in the number of births across highly developed countries,” Tomas Sobotka, a demographer in Vienna told The Wall Street Journal. “The longer this period of uncertainty lasts, the most it will have a lifelong effect on the fertility rate.”
That means that women who might have only intended to delay their childbearing during the pandemic may miss their opportunity to have children at all.
While overall, the pandemic has pushed fertility rates down, that hasn’t been the case for everyone. Research indicates that people low-income women were more likely to be delaying childbirth, while people who are financially stable or even well off might be more inclined than usual to have a baby right now.
“For some people, like those with the ability to work from home and who have reduced work travel, this may be an easier time to have a child,” Guttmacher Institute Principal Research Scientist Laura Lindberg told Refinery29. “Additionally, some families are increasing their savings — those with steady paychecks and less opportunities to spend their income on things like travel or dining out. This may also make those families feel more secure having children during the pandemic.”
Unfortunately, financial health is almost always a factor in deciding whether or not to have another baby. We can never take that away, but if we had more policies to support families, like childcare, paid leave and more equitable access to insurance, the financial burden of having a child would be lessened. That would make many families more inclined to have more children — something our future economy may need.