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The Pandemic Didn't Appear To Spur A Baby Boom, Rather A Bust

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Early in the pandemic, stay-at-home orders prompted many people to speculate about a baby boom some nine months later. Well, human beings have surprised us again because the opposite is happening. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing births in the U.S. dropped 4% last year. That's the lowest level since 1979. Here's NPR's Yuki Noguchi.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Columbia University Population and Health Professor John Santelli says the data show how uncertainty influenced family planning.

JOHN SANTELLI: Do you want to have a baby? This is a good time. A lot of women are saying, no, this is not a great time. There's a global catastrophe.

NOGUCHI: And that cut across all races and age groups. Kasey Buckles studies economics and families at the University of Notre Dame. She says the pandemic amplified existing trends.

KASEY BUCKLES: I think that does show some early signs of this anticipated COVID baby bust. But most of this is a continuation of a trend that's been happening since 2007.

NOGUCHI: Since then, Buckles says, births have declined most among disadvantaged groups, those with lower educations and incomes, as well as racial minorities and young people. Teenagers, for example, are giving birth at record low rates as contraception use increased.

BUCKLES: That's a group where we have seen the birthrate fall 63% since 2007 - in just 13 years.

NOGUCHI: The birthrate is also not rebounding among women in their 30s, millennials in their childbearing prime.

BUCKLES: They were hit hard by the Great Recession just as they were starting to think about starting families. They faced rising housing prices, student loan debt. And all of those things are likely contributing to fewer births.

NOGUCHI: And, she says, raising children doesn't just cost more, it's also more demanding.

BUCKLES: Your working mom today, on average, spends more quality time with her children than women who didn't work in the '60s.

NOGUCHI: So many couples, she says, are deciding they don't have the money or the time needed to devote to having children.

Yuki Noguchi, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THRUPENCE'S "FOREST ON THE SUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.