Will The Coronavirus Social Distancing Lead To A Baby Boom?

Thanks to social distancing measures and #flattenthecurve-related lockdowns arising from attempts to curb a more widespread COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, most of us are facing the possibility of spending the next few weeks at home, and in close proximity with our loved ones. If you are looking to start or grow your family, you might be in luck.

Researchers have regularly found that large-scale disasters which have forced families and couples to stay together for extended periods of time can actually have an impact on birth rates since catastrophes bring people together. In one study published in 2002, social scientists saw a spike in marriages and births after Hurricane Hugo struck in 1990. Another study conducted in 2005 saw birth rates rise after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (via The New York Times). "Scary times have the potential to drive people together or apart," University of Washington psychology professor Pepper Schwartz told Quartz; meaning partners could have "a new appreciation for having someone to face a scary future with."

And it just doesn't happen in America. When the UK county of Gloucestershire suffered from historic flooding in 2007, the council experienced a big shortage in school places a few years later, and ended up having to create 200 extra spots to meet demand. The conclusion? That the 2007 flooding had led to a baby boom (via The Guardian). Even in Italy, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus, The Daily Beast says people in quarantine zones have begun talking about a spike in births as a result of quarantines.

Couples who are forced to spend time at home could help push the birth rate up

Midwife Ann Whitman, who has 29 years of experience delivering babies, believes birth rates could rise when people are forced to spend more time at home together. "It's anything that causes people to stay home more. Remember we had all that snow three or four years ago?" Whitman asked the Boston Globe, and then proceeded to inform them that her business improved dramatically nine months later because, as she put it, "People tend to take comfort by getting close."

Lauren Wise, a Boston University Academic, agreed, saying: "If the couples are stuck at home and not ill from infection, it is plausible that they would engage in more regular intercourse and that we would see a spike in the birth rates in 39-40 weeks from now."

But not everyone sees things the same way. Lyman Stone, a former economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture said birth rates do go up, but not right away, because he thinks birth rates actually go down when residents are faced with natural catastrophes like influenza outbreaks, hurricanes, and Ebola. And while fertility rates did rise again, the rebound didn't happen until 10 or 11 months after the natural disaster. He concluded, "COVID could boost births over four years after the epidemic runs its course by anywhere from 0.3 percent to 40 percent."

A coronavirus-led baby boom could definitely happen

So can we expect the coronavirus to cause a global spike in birth rates by the end of this year? Possibly, maternal fetal medicine doctor Michael Cackovick told Romper, thanks to "...the human response to loss, disruption in access to family planning and of course, increased sexual activity from being confined to home." He explained, "There are certainly tons of anecdotal reports of increased fecundity or fertility after events forcing people to stay at home. Scientific reports, however, have been mixed in an effort to confirm the phenomenon."

Still, Stone thinks a baby boom is likely, on one condition. "If Americans take proactive measures to stay home together more and avoid going out, and in doing so also succeed in preventing COVID from spreading widely, and if policymakers take measures to keep the economy humming, then U.S. birth rates could actually rise slightly in the next year as a result of COVID" he told the Boston Globe.

But parents with crisis babies don't need science to tell them what they already know. "I don't care what the evidence is," Nicola Davies who had a baby after the Gloucestershire floods told The Guardian. "I still think there's something in it. Look, the floods prompted this huge feeling of community spirit. After they were over ... We'd been through two weeks of hell, everyone was on an absolute high. It was like a reaffirmation — we'd got through it! Speaking for myself, there was a bit of alcohol involved. A sense of celebration. And, well, there we were. Or is that too much information?"