Next year, roughly there will be half a million fewer babies born in the U.S than were born in 2019, and the pandemic is largely to blame, according to a report by the Brookings Institute.
“We decided we’re probably not going to have a kid until coronavirus is gone gone,” Aaron Whitaker, 33, of Detroit told Time. “And that might be a few years. And that’s O.K.”
Whitaker is one of many women around the country who are delaying their plans to get pregnant this year. Early on in the pandemic some women opted not to get pregnant because of health concerns, with some fertility clinics even shutting down services temporarily.
Now, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists says whether or not to get pregnant during the pandemic is a personal choice. And yet, many families are still putting off having a baby. For Whitaker, the decision was driven by finances — she worried that she or her husband could get laid off because of the pandemic.
“With everything being so iffy and businesses closing and layoffs, would I have a job to go back to?” she said.
Shelby Parker, 29, of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio made a similar decision. She already has a toddler and was planning for a second baby this year. But her district has told her that her job as a teacher is at risk amid budget cuts caused by the pandemic. Without a job, she would have no health insurance, and she’s not comfortable getting pregnant with that possibility on the table. Now, she wonders if she’ll ever have a second child.
“I’m grieving for the family I thought I would have,” she said.
Whitaker and Parker aren’t isolated cases. According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than one-third of American women have decided to delay getting pregnant or change their family plans permanently because of the pandemic. Women are taking clear steps to prevent pregnancy: Time found that one tele-pharmacy reported a 50% increase in requests for birth control and a 40% rise in requests for Plan B, the “morning after pill.”
Margaret Ogden, 33, of Virginia Beach, worries about how she would balance motherhood with her law career. Now more than ever, the challenges facing working moms are overwhelming, she said.
“I have friends who are honest and vulnerable about what’s happening right now, and they feel like they’re not being good parents or good employees,” she said. “Choices for working couples were never great to begin with. They’re impossible now.”
Whitaker had a similar response after seeing friends and colleagues balance work and family.
“It was just fight or flight,” she said. “Even if you can work from home, and that’s a blessing, I see their kids running around in the back of video calls or crying and think, How sustainable could this actually be?
Allison Robinson is CEO of the Mom Project, an organization that connects women with jobs after they return from maternity leave. She said that the pandemic is influencing how families balance childcare and work.
“In two-partner households, we’re seeing men’s careers take the priority—for economic reasons but also really ingrained social reasons,” she said. “That leaves women to make the tough choices.”
However, experts say it’s important to recognize that fertility isn’t just about individual families. The U.S. birth rate has already been steadily dropping. Having fewer babies born will strain the economy, especially as older Americans or retirement age begin to outnumber young workers, said Dowell Myers, the director of the Population Dynamics Research Group at the University of Southern California.
“We need to make it as easy as possible for women to balance child-rearing and their careers,” Myers said. “It’s not about individual women. It’s about the fate of the country.”