Among our neighbors to the south, we are already talking about a ” baby bust », A drop in births of around 15% for 2021, the biggest drop in birth rates in America since the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 and the Great Depression.
By comparison, the crash of 1929 led to a decline in pregnancies by 15%, while the Spanish flu reduced the number of babies born by 13%. The last recession of 2008, however, caused the number of infants born in the United States to drop by 10% the following year.
“A 15% drop in four months doesn’t seem like much, but it’s huge. It’s historic, in demographic terms, ”says Joshua Wilde, researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, author of a study which predicts such a drop in births between November 2020 and February 2021 in the United States. Its projections are based on the notable decline in queries made for certain pregnancy-related keywords, observed since last winter on the Google search engine.
The model developed by the researcher, based on monthly birth rates recorded for 15 years in the United States and the most popular research carried out six to eight months earlier for certain terms related to pregnancy, makes it possible to accurately predict births to come up. The predictive nature of queries made on the Internet is often used in other fields of research, in particular to measure the circulation of the influenza virus.
“The associations observed between 2004 and 2019 between the popularity of certain words and the fertility rate nine months later are extremely strong. We have confidence in our model, ”explained to Duty Joshua Wilde, joint in Germany.
Among the most convincing digital traces, heralding babies on the way, we note the keywords “Clear Blue” (pregnancy test brand), ovulation, pregnancy test, morning sickness, all less used in recent months. On the other hand, the frequency of the words “unemployment” and “layoff” jumped on the search engines, another precursor sign of a decline in births.
“Searches for the word ‘unemployment’ increased 20-fold when the lockdown began in the United States. They are still ten times higher than normal today, ”explains Wilde. “Couples fear economic uncertainty first, more than the virus,” adds the researcher.
And this downward curve could hit some states and some subgroups more affected by unemployment more, such as African Americans (nearly 16%), observes Mr. Wilde. In Hawaii, the birth rate could drop as much as 24%.
Several other researchers are also beginning to measure the demographic cost of COVID to society. In addition to the thousands of deaths, up to half a million babies may not see the light of day in 2021 in the United States, according to a study by theInstitut Brookings, a Washington-based independent research group.
Unlike the epidemic of 1918, which occurred without an economic crisis, that caused by COVID, already described as ” she-recession », Hits the women head-on. Not only because of the thousands of jobs lost in restaurants and hotels, the overload of work experienced in health and education-related jobs, mostly held by women, but also because of the job loss. family head imposed on many women by teleworking.
“The current conditions are likely to continue for a lot of people. Many of these births will not be postponed, but will never happen. There will be a “baby bust”COVID-19. This will be another cost of this terrible episode, ”writes Melissa S. Kearney, co-author of this research, who specifies that each 1% increase in the unemployment rate reduces the birth rate by the same amount.
In Quebec too
Quebec is already showing a significant drop in births since April. COVID effect? Difficult to say, since the births in spring and last summer were the result of pregnancies that began before the pandemic. But according to Chantal Lapointe, demographer at the Institut de la statistique du Québec (ISQ), the observed drop, of around 1,700 births for the second and third quarters, could be explained by the significant drop in the number of immigrants. admitted to Quebec since the start of the health crisis. “This seems to us the most probable hypothesis, because 33% of babies born in Quebec come from couples with an immigrant. What is clear for 2019 is that there is a downward trend. “
While 600 more births were noted from January to April 2020, the decline in births has been constant since May. “The number of women of childbearing age has not decreased,” says the demographer, “but it is possible that the fertility for each woman is decreasing. It will take several years to measure the real effect of COVID on the fertility rate and see if these births will be postponed to 2022 or 2023, or canceled altogether. “
One thing is certain, during the pandemic, Quebec received 13,000 to 18,000 fewer immigrants than expected. According to Statistics Canada, the closure of theimmigration, fertility clinics and the suspension of adoption processes are expected to lead to population declines across the country in the fourth quarter of 2020.
In the United States, the current violence of the second wave could make this ” baby bust “Beyond 2021, thinks Joshua Wilde. Preliminary data collected by this researcher suggests that certain European countries, such as Germany and the United Kingdom, will be more spared, with projected birth rates of 5%. “Even if the unemployment rate remains high, social measures compensate and help individuals, which is not the case in the United States. “
For the countries most affected, this demographic decline will not be without effect, he says. The aging of the population structure will have long-term repercussions on state tax revenues, as well as on the ability to finance several public services, including schools, hospitals and pension funds.