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Research: COVID-19 Slows Birth Rate in U.S., Europe

Empty cribs in a maternity ward.

Throughout history, pandemics have been a key driver of human population change, thanks to mortality and declining fertility rates. And, according to a new study co-authored by ILR’s Seth Sanders, the Ronald Ehrenberg Professor of Economics, COVID-19 is no exception.

In the study, “Early assessment of the relationship between the COVID-19 pandemic and births in high-income countries,” Sanders and his co-authors report on the relationship between the COVID-19 pandemic and births for 22 high-income countries. They found particularly strong declines in southern Europe: Italy (−9.1%), Spain (−8.4%), and Portugal (−6.6%), while Denmark, Finland, Germany, and The Netherlands saw no decline at all.

For the United States, the researchers found a 7.1% decline.

Of the results, the authors wrote, “When compared to the large fall in southern Europe, the relative stability of [crude birth rates] CBRs in northern Europe points to the role of policies in support of families and employment in reducing any impact on births.”

According to Sanders, “The bottom line is that there was a lot of variation across countries in the decline. We don’t address why, but we think a lot of it has to do with the degree of economic disruption, coupled with the degree of social support in the absence of employment.”

To conduct their study, the researchers used monthly live birth data from January 2016 to March 2021, which corresponds to conceptions (carried to term) from April 2015 to June 2020. They then matched information on monthly live births with midyear population estimates from the United Nations (UN) Population Division’s World Population Prospects to establish their formula.

The authors only included countries that belong to the high-income group, according to the World Bank, and that had both population and birth data available up to at least November 2020.

The paper, co-authored by Arnstein Aassve, Nicolò Cavalli, Letizia Mencarini and Samuel Plach, all from the Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi in Italy, appeared in the Sept. 7 edition of Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

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