There have been frequent claims in the media that the ongoing COVID19 crisis will result in a baby boom. The suggestion is that couples experiencing lockdown had plenty of time on their hands to indulge in the pleasure of procreation. Sound reasonable? On paper, yes. But this suggestion was hurtful for couples going through infertility. And the salt in the wound was that many fertility treatments were suspended.
There are a couple of other considerations that added weight to the baby boom theory.
- It seems reasonable that populations might quickly rebound because of societal pressures to replace those who were lost in the crisis.
- It also seems natural that people may wish to affirm their commitment to life and the future by bringing new life into the world.
History, though, teaches us a different lesson.
When researchers looked at short-term fertility following previous natural disasters, like earthquakes and hurricanes, they found that:
- Catastrophic events are usually followed by an initial decline in births within a year
- Births rate only start to increase from 1-5 years after the catastrophic events first occurred.
There are other reasons why COVID19 is unlikely to be followed by a baby boom. Firstly, economic recessions reduce the birth rate as more people put their family-building plans on hold in the hope of an improvement in their pay and conditions. This was particularly seen after the last prolonged recession following the 2008 crash.
It is likely that the recession caused by the COVID19 crisis will be deeper and more prolonged than the 2008 crash. This will greatly impact on the birth rate. Secondly, COVID19 disproportionately affected the older population, not those of parenting age. So, there is no societal need to replace those who were lost with new babies. A renowned expert in this subject, Professor Arnstein Aassve of the University of Milan in Italy, believes that a high level of uncertainty about the future will likely put couples off having a baby. He said, “Although it is difficult to make precise predictions, a likely scenario is that fertility will fall, at least in high-income countries and in the short run.”
But will fertility rates rebound in the medium term, as has been seen in the past?
That seems unlikely unless there is a rapid turnaround in the economies of developed countries that were impacted by COVID19. In terms of fertility services in those countries another factor adds to the scenario of fewer babies. There is a high maternal age in high-income countries.
Assisted reproductive technology (ART) is therefore essential for many parents who want children. However, during the lockdown, most ART cycles were suspended or canceled altogether. And the reopening of fertility clinics will not easily offset all those lost cycles.