Nearly half the world’s population is confined to their homes with two primary tasks: 1. Do not catch nor spread COVID-19. 2. Don’t go nuts from boredom or cabin fever.
In trying to accomplish No. 2, people are playing more board and card games. Others are catching up on sleep and preparing more homecooked meals. These are very good things.
Husbands and wives are also finding themselves with plenty of time for other activities, and this is very good too. Could this mean the world might see a much–needed baby boom beginning nine months from now? Could our current international crisis conceivably be responsible for creating more lives than it takes? It’s a very interesting and consequential question.
It has long been a cultural phenomenon that generally when people are confined to their homes due to dramatic weather events or power outages, a rash of babies start springing forth nine months later. The longer the seclusion, the greater likelihood.
It’s Certainly Happened Before
There’s strong research on this question. The Washington Post reported a boom of blizzard babies nine months after historic storms hit the DC area some years ago. Holy Cross Hospital saw an increase of 75 more births over the previous year. Lots of furlough babies arrived after a 16-day government shutdown.
A nurse at Sibley Memorial Hospital told the Post, “We keep getting asked, ‘What’s going on?’ And we sit back and say, ‘Well, you’re in D.C. What was happening nine months ago?’ ” That hospital experienced an average 33 percent increase in births nine months later. Another area hospital saw a 45 percent increase.
Hurricane Sandy and its curfews, power outages, and flooding, not to mention increased anxiety from the event, encouraged more couples to seek “comfort” from one another. Local hospitals were busier than usual nine months later in delivering “hurricane babies.”
Dr. Jacques Moritz, director of gynecology at St Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, reported a 10 to 20 percent increase in births nine months after Hurricane Sandy over the previous year at the same time. “There’s definitely an uptick” he explained. “This is just old basic physiology. There’s no Internet and no cable. What else is there to do?”
The chief of OB/GYN at New York-Presbyterian reported being 20 to 30 percent busier post-Sandy. At New York Downtown Hospital, The Times reported a “notable increase” in deliveries as Sandy’s nine-month anniversary arrived.
Academic Research Reports Similar Consequences
Demographers studied the effect of hurricane storm advisories upon fertility. They found that when couples are holed up together under low or moderate hurricane warnings, fertility increased. However, when weather advisory warnings indicated severe storms, fertility declined.
This makes sense. Couples are more likely to pass the time sexually when threat to life and property is low. Severe threats increase anxiety and dampen the sex drive.
In times of instantaneous catastrophic events that happen without warning, published research finds that fertility can increase significantly, not so much immediately, but over the following years. The prestigious journal Demography found “compelling support” that the Oklahoma City bombing spurred “an interpretable, consistent, and significant increase in births” in that area.
The same happened in New York City following 9/11. A demographer from the University of Pennsylvania found that the New York boroughs “exhibited a prompt and significant increase in births … in the post-9/11 period.”
Scholars studied fertility rates following the horrific 2004 Indian Ocean tsunamis that took nearly 170,000 lives. They found fertility rates rose appreciably in the affected areas. The increases were particularly significant among women who lost a child to the floods as well as previously childless women who lived in or near the centers of devastation.
Scholars estimated a total of 9,500 more births took place between 2006 and 2009 than if the tsunamis had not happened. It is likely these women felt the need to overcome with new life the death that haunted their communities.
The same was found after the 2001 Gujarat earthquake that rocked India. The Journal of Population Economics revealed that fertility in the epicenter and surrounding areas increased dramatically in the five years following the tragedy. The spacing between pregnancies shrank as well.
Even Skeptics Suggest at Least a Small Baby Boom
The Institute for Family Studies (IFS) recently published a major article on the COVID-19 crisis’s possible effect on global fertility. They report that determining this impact is much more difficult as no data exists on situations involving massive social distancing in a modern viral pandemic. They explain that “COVID is very likely to reduce births in the near term, and perhaps by a quite considerable amount.”
This was seen in past influenza outbreaks. But in the later months and years, fertility can tend to increase beyond the average, as witnessed in the tragedies just examined.
Given the lack of specific data on situations like our present crisis, IFS’s best calculation is that “COVID could boost births over four years after the epidemic runs its course by anywhere from 0.3% to 40%.” This could have a positive and dramatic effect globally.
A Whole Lotta Netflix ‘n Chill
So, what can we expect from our international COVID-19 crisis? A few factors at play can inform us.
First, while loss of life in the coming weeks will be higher than any of us care to consider, the losses are not instantaneous but spread out. They are not presenting dramatically and visually in our 24-hour television and internet news cycle. This will reduce anxiety.
Second, we all know social distancing has left each of us with plenty of free time on our hands and many are generally at relative ease in the midst of it.
Third, our global isolation from public life, sharing close quarters with others, and changes in our work modes and schedules are certainly disconcerting. These will certainly drive people to seek greater physical comfort and sexual release.
Fourth, this isolation has lasted longer than any other natural disasters and will continue. This significantly increases the opportunity and possibility of pregnancy as sexual intimacy increases. These four factors, in line with other social crises, could very well indicate dramatically increased global fertility in the coming year and beyond.
A negative impact upon fertility could be the concomitant increased economic instability. People will wonder whether they can afford a larger family when this epidemic is over. That will very much be on people’s mind.
But it will likely come down to this: The human sex drive is exponentially more powerful than economic discipline. And human sexuality is opportunistic. It happens when we have time, when we are lonely and need solace. So, we shall see.
But it is wise to remember that robust fertility is an economic boon and requirement for a healthy, thriving nation. No industrial nation is currently replacing its population. Many are facing dire economic futures as a result. That is a very serious global problem, perhaps greater than our present one.
Now seems as good a time as ever to fix it. At least we have the time.