Birth rates have fallen by almost 10% in some wealthy countries since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to research published by the American journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Using monthly live birth numbers from 2016 to this March (2021), the researchers reported preliminary evidence showing the pandemic has decreased fertility in all but four of 22 high-income countries studied.
The authors, from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, Cornell University in the United States and Universita Commerciale Luigi Bocconi in Italy, factored in seasonality and long-term trends, but nonetheless estimated a 9.4% fall in Italy and more than 8% in Hungary and Spain.
“Belgium, Austria and Singapore also showed a significant decline in crude birth rates,” they said, acknowledging as “received wisdom” the view that pandemics mean fewer babies, with the US being hit by a 13% drop after the Spanish Flu a century ago.
There were expectations in some quarters that this pandemic could lead to a baby boom, even in the 22 countries studied – most of which have for decades been reporting low birth rates and ageing populations.
A bump in birth rates was expected as a reaction to the work-from-home directives issued by governments and the closing for long stretches of cinemas, pubs and restaurants.
However, a 2020 survey by Italian academics of 18-24-year-olds in the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain found “fertility plans” being “negatively revised in all countries”.
Official US data published in May (2021) showed births down around 6% in December 2020 compared to one year before, nine months after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a pandemic. – dpa
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