Here comes the COVID-19 baby bust

The baby bust isn’t expected to begin in earnest until December. And it could take a bit longer than that, Sarah Hayford, a sociologist at Ohio State University, told me, if parents-to-be didn’t adjust their plans in response to the pandemic immediately back in March, when its duration wasn’t widely apparent.

The resulting decline in births, whenever it kicks in, could be quite large. In June, the economists Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine projected that 300,000 to 500,000 fewer babies might be born in 2021 than there would have been otherwise. “We see no reason to think that our estimate was too large at this point,” Kearney told me five months after the analysis was published. “In fact, given the ongoing stress for current parents associated with school closures, the effect might even be larger than what we predicted.”…

It’s not just that fewer babies will be born—it’s also that different babies will likely be born, to different parents. As I wrote in July, white parents and parents with more resources might be better able to go through with their pre-pandemic childbirth plans than parents of color and parents with fewer resources, such as those who have lost earnings or jobs during the pandemic. In addition, the proportion of births that are “unintended” (whether planned for later or not wanted at all) may rise.

The children of the baby bust may even have some small advantages, by virtue of having a reduced pool of peers nationwide. They could have slightly smaller class sizes growing up, as well as a slightly easier time getting into college or landing a good job.