baby bust

Topic: What “baby bust”? New and soon-to-be parents on choosing to have kids in dark times.

It’s easy to look around at the absolute disaster of the past year — the coronavirus upending society, millions unemployed, a looming climate catastrophe, the continued success of The Masked Singer — and decide that no additional people should have to suffer through existence.

So it made intuitive sense when researchers at the Brookings Institution published a study predicting a “COVID baby bust,” arguing that the instability the virus has inflicted on our lives would dramatically lower the birth rate. Extrapolating from data around the 1918 influenza pandemic and the more recent Great Recession that began in 2007, the authors concluded the US would see 300,000 to 500,000 fewer births in 2021. The prediction immediately made headlines.

Even before the pandemic, the US birthrate was already at the lowest point in American history, with just 59.1 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For many years, millennials’ strangled careers and high student debt helped them drive this decline, though the CDC report shows some signs that they’re belatedly coming around to parenthood. In 2018, the birthrate among women ages 30 to 34 was higher than the rate for women ages 25 to 29 for only the third time in almost 80 years. However, the pandemic, with its increased risks to pregnant women, seems poised to derail these trends.

But even if these baby bust predictions are accurate (for example, left unmentioned in the Brookings study are the millions of Americans who were off fighting in World War I for the first nine months of the 1918 flu pandemic, which surely had its own impact on the birthrate), a decline of half a million births would still mean, using 2019’s numbers as an estimate, more than 3 million babies would be born in the US in 2021. Plenty of soon-to-be and would-be parents are pregnant or trying to get pregnant despite these stressful circumstances.

So we decided to speak to several of them, some of whom sheepishly admitted their good fortune in a time of widespread loss, managing to keep their jobs and stay with their partners. Others felt as though the window of their lives wherein they’re able to have a child was rapidly closing, and there wasn’t a lot of reason to wait. Over and over again, we heard a sense of optimism for the future — even if these expectant parents admitted it was, quite possibly, irrational.

But having a child always involves an element of irrational optimism. “We’re generally optimistic people!” one of the parents, Elisa, told us. Universally, the parents we spoke to were looking past the pandemic and imagining the world on the other side, seeing themselves there with their new children. For them, the pandemic was no match for this prenatal magical thinking, much to the relief of the future of humanity.

Topic Discussed: What “baby bust”? New and soon-to-be parents on choosing to have kids in dark times.

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