From Bust to Boom? Birth and Fertility Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Tomas Sobotka , Vienna Institute of Demography
Aiva Jasilioniene, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research
Krystof Zeman , Vienna Institute of Demography
Maria Winkler-Dworak , Vienna Institute of Demography
Zuzanna Brzozowska, Vienna Institute of Demography, Austrian Academy of Sciences
Laszlo Nemeth, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR)
Dmitri A. Jdanov , Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (Germany) / National Research University Higher School of Economics (Russia)

Past economic, health and policy shocks were often associated with a downturn in fertility rates. We use monthly birth data collected by the Human Fertility Database (STFF data series) to analyse an early impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on birth and fertility trends across 29 highly developed countries and regions. Our data cover the period through Spring-Summer 2021, corresponding to the conceptions initiated until Summer-Autumn 2020, i.e., during the first half a year of into the pandemic. Our study has two main aims. First, we expand the initial research on pandemic birth trends, providing a more systematic analysis, covering larger number of countries and a longer period. Second, we go beyond crude indicators of births. For a subset of analysed countries we combine different datasets and estimate monthly total fertility rate (TFR) covering the whole analysed period. We demonstrate that the pandemic has brought huge short-term fluctuations in births and fertility rates. However, birth trends differed sharply during the analysed period, with two distinct shifts observed. First, the initial pandemic “shock” resulted in a steep fertility downturn in most countries, with the sharpest reduction in January 2021. Subsequently, birth rates in most countries showed a surprising short-term “compensatory” recovery linked with the ending of the first wave of the pandemic, with a small baby boom reported especially in March and April 2021. As a result, the pandemic period on the whole did not bring a lasting shift in fertility in most of the analysed countries.

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 Presented in Session 19. Flash Session: Fertility and the COVID-19 Pandemic