We expect 300,000 fewer births than usual this year

This effect was evident after the Great Recession. States that experienced higher increases in unemployment experienced larger declines in birthrates; a 1 percentage point increase in the unemployment rate was associated with a subsequent drop in births of 1 percent. Estimates suggest that U.S. unemployment will have risen by around 5.5 percentage points in the year following the start of the pandemic. From the unemployment effect alone, we might therefore expect a 5.5 percent reduction in births on account of the Covid pandemic.

Of course, this pandemic is causing more than “just” a recession. The public health element is also likely to lead some couples to postpone or avoid childbearing. Here, the demographic history of the 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic is instructive. That pandemic was not associated with a major recession in the United States, and contraceptive options were much more limited at the time. Yet, every spike in pandemic-related deaths was associated with a large drop in births exactly nine months later. We also incorporated this evidence into our forecast.

School closures, public-gathering limits and social-distancing mandates are also likely to have an effect. Millions of parents are dealing with the stress of combining their work responsibilities with the need to supervise and teach their children who no longer attend school five days a week.