“The severity of a pandemic, the disparities that continue to exist, as well as shutdown of fertility services and a shutdown of immigration, which is a big contributor to birth rate, are all factors linked to the significant decline in births,” Gupta said.
“So, it’s not unexpected. The numbers have been declining in the United States each year. And clearly, 2020 is six years in a row of decline,” he noted. “But before that, the counts were declining an average of about 50,000 a year, and this report shows about 140,000 fewer births, which is almost three times.”
It was not just the pandemic, he added. “Almost one in four babies is born to an immigrant in this country. And we clearly saw some challenges with that, which would have impacted births,” Gupta explained.
Based on what happened in the 1918 flu pandemic, Gupta expects the drop in the birth rate to continue, possibly into 2022. It may take another year or two for people to have the confidence in having families, he said.
“If you looked at the 1918 pandemic, the birth rate dropped by 10% after about nine to 10 months following the peak in deaths,” he said. “In one day this February, we had about 5,000 deaths, so we certainly will see fewer births in 2021, and it may happen in 2022.”
If that trend continues, it will have a major social impact as the workforce declines just as older people are retiring and living longer, according to Dr. Jennifer Wu, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Wu thinks that economics plays a role in the declining birth rate as couples decide to have fewer children. The desire for an education and career are delaying pregnancy for some women, and with others the need to work makes having large families problematic.
“There are a lot of economic implications for the declining birth rate, but the declining birth rate also has a lot of implications for the Earth in general and climate change,” Wu said. “There are a lot of forces at play, and it’s daunting to know what is best for the long term.”