May 11, 2023 | News
Birth Numbers on a Rollercoaster during Covid-19 Pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic sent birth trends in wealthier countries on a roller coaster ride. While birth rates fell in most of the countries studied as a result of the pandemic outbreak, there was even a small baby boom in some countries later.
The Covid-19 outbreak has had a profound impact on everyone's lives. Numerous studies are currently examining both the short-term and long-term effects of the pandemic on different domains of social life. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock, together with colleagues from the Vienna Institute of Demography, investigated how the Covid-19 pandemic affected the number of births and fertility in 38 higher-income countries. These include regions in Europe, East Asia and North America, as well as Chile, Israel and New Zealand.
"At the beginning of the pandemic, attention was focused on health risks and increased mortality. However, soon it became clear that the pandemic and restrictive measures introduced to contain the virus would inevitably affect fertility plans of couples and families," explains Dr. Aiva Jasilioniene of the MPIDR. Two possible fertility scenarios were discussed by the media at the time: Baby boom or baby bust. "Our study is unique in that it provides a comprehensive overview of birth and fertility trends in a large number of higher-income countries – starting with the outbreak of the pandemic and continuing into the summer of 2022 and compare them with the pre-pandemic period," Dr. Jasilioniene continues.
Ups and downs in pandemic fertility
The study shows that the pandemic caused strong fluctuations in the number of births and fertility. The shock at the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic led to a pronounced drop in births from December 2020 to January 2021 in most countries and regions studied. Despite cross-country differences, fertility shifts were almost synchronous in most countries. However, this trend briefly reversed around March 2021 – associated with pregnancies that started after the end of the first wave. Some countries experienced small baby booms. In the following months, births remained stable or even slightly above the level predicted by the pre-pandemic trends. However, in January 2022 a new fall in birth rates occurred, linked with conceptions in spring and summer 2021 when the Covid-19 vaccination rollout was gaining momentum and the pandemic restrictions were being relaxed. In some countries, notably in the Nordic countries, the Netherlands, Germany, Israel, and the United States, the opposite was true. These countries experienced a significant increase in births in 2021 compared to pre-pandemic trends. "We called the pandemic birth trends a roller coaster for a reason – the period was full of ups and downs. Nevertheless, contrary to initial expectations, the COVID-19 pandemic did not lead to a dramatic or sustained decline in births, at least not in most of the analyzed countries," said Dr. Aiva Jasilioniene.
Monthly birth data and estimates of monthly seasonally and calendar-adjusted total fertility rates from the Short-Term Fertility Fluctuations (STFF) data series were used. The STFF is a data source added to the Human Fertility Database (HFD). The HFD provides regularly updated indicators on monthly fertility trends in selected countries.
Tomáš Sobotka, Kryštof Zeman, Aiva Jasilioniene, Maria Winkler-Dworak, Zuzanna Brzozowska, Ainhoa Alustiza-Galarza, László Németh, Dmitri Jdanov: Pandemic Roller-Coaster? Birth Trends in Higher-Income Countries During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Population and Development Review (2022). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/padr.12544
Authors and affiliations
Aiva Jasilioniene, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock
Ainhoa Alustiza-Galarza, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock
Dmitri Jdanov, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock
László Németh, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock
Tomáš Sobotka, Vienna Institute of Demography, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna
Kryštof Zeman, Vienna Institute of Demography, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna
Maria Winkler-Dworak, Vienna Institute of Demography, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna
Zuzanna Brzozowska, Gesundheit Österreich GmbH (GÖG), Vienna