Arnstein Aassve, a professor of social and political sciences at Bocconi University in Italy, and his colleagues looked at birth rates in 22 high-income countries, including the U.S., from 2016 through the beginning of 2021. They found that seven of these countries had statistically significant declines in birth rates in the final months of 2020 and first months of 2021, compared with the same period in previous years. Hungary, Italy, Spain and Portugal had some of the largest drops: reductions of 8.5, 9.1, 8.4 and 6.6 percent, respectively. The U.S. saw a decline of 3.8 percent, but this was not statistically significant—perhaps because the pandemic’s effects were more spread out in the country and because the study only had U.S. data through December 2020, Aassve says. The findings were published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.
Birth rates fluctuate seasonally within a year, and many of the countries in the study had experienced falling rates for years before the pandemic. But the declines that began nine months after the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency on January 30, 2020, were even more stark. “We are very confident that the effect for those countries is real,” Aassve says. “Even though they might have had a bit of a mild downward trend [before], we’re pretty sure about the fact that there was an impact of the pandemic.”