"Social distancing" was a problem before COVID

The authors considered three possibilities. One was that marriage and fertility would simply continue downward. Another was a “renaissance scenario”—the loneliness, dislocation and existential questioning of the past year and a half would produce a new appreciation for the idea of family, a longing for and desire to make them. The third was that “economic, religious, and partisan divides in family formation” would “deepen” in Covid-19’s wake.

The report found most evidence for the third scenario. The desire to marry among single Americans ticked up 2 points since the pandemic, but 17% of Americans 18 to 55 reported their desire to have children had decreased, while only 10% said it had increased. And Covid might have “poured fuel” on the fissures. Interest in family formation varies by income, religion, even partisan affiliation. The rich, the religious and Republicans have a “relatively greater propensity” to marry.

There was one area of convergence. Historically the poor and less educated have been more likely to have children. “But childlessness is rising among less-educated, lower-income men and women, a trend that COVID seems likely to amplify. This would bring childbearing trends among the poor closer to those of more educated and affluent Americans.”