The pandemic bumped 2021 birthrate, study shows

Working from home and financial aid during the pandemic contributed to more college-educated women giving birth in 2021 and 2022.

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Newborn babies in a hospital maternity ward.

Birthrates increased during the pandemic, defying early forecasts, a new study says.

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Does it seem like you’ve been invited to more baby showers than usual? You’re not alone. Researchers say the United States is experiencing a pandemic baby bump.

Northwestern University economist Hannes Schwandt, a co-author of the new study, found that working from home is one of the main reasons for the rise in pregnancies. While remote work might allow some to get busy in more ways than one, Schwandt said people also have more freedom to watch their kids after maternity leave.

Schwandt said people also feel more financially supported by the government during the pandemic. 

Researchers didn’t expect to see a rise in births. Early forecasts suggested that as many as 500,000 fewer babies might be born in the U.S. because of the pandemic.

Birthrates declined slightly as lockdowns began in early 2020, but rose in 2021 to create a net increase of 46,000 births above the prepandemic trend across the two years.

“In general, all throughout the last decades fertility has declined,” Schwandt said. “This is the first reversal that we’re seeing in a long time and what’s particularly remarkable is that this is a result of a crisis that included an economic crisis. It was just very unexpected from a demographer’s point of view and from my own experience with the data.”

The researchers studied demographic data covering all U.S. births from 2015 through 2021 and all births in California from 2015 through August 2022.

Schwandt said at the start of the pandemic, researchers saw an immediate decline in childbirths — something that didn’t make sense when lockdowns meant people were spending more time at home.

“We thought, ‘Where in the world are these babies?’” Schwandt said.

Schwandt and his team later figured out that fewer babies were being born in the U.S. because of pandemic restrictions on immigration.

Meanwhile, the increase in 2021 was driven largely by women having their first children and babies born to women with college educations, who may have been more likely to benefit from working from home. 

The 2021 increase in fertility has continued through the summer of 2022, according to the California data, the authors wrote.

Schwandt said policymakers may want to pay more attention to how immigration, maternity-related benefits as well as financial support during crises impact birthrates and the economy.

“That some women may be more apt to have children if they have higher flexibility is a very interesting, important takeaway, especially since the U.S. lags behind other developed countries in terms of [maternity-related] benefits,” Schwandt said. “And even though European fertility rates, in general, are lower than those in the U.S., at the same time, we have a lot more immigration. That’s another takeaway: We saw how important those immigrant mothers are for the U.S. birthrate.”

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