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Study: Birth rates decline in U.S., western Europe during pandemic

Study: Birth rates decline in U.S., western Europe during pandemic
The United States, among several other countries globally, saw a decline in births in 2020 due to pandemic concerns, according to a new study. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 30 (UPI) -- The United States saw a 7% decline in its national childbirth rate in 2020, the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study published Monday.

The drop in the domestic crude birth rate -- or the ratio between the number of live births in a population during a given year and the total mid-year population for the same year -- mirrored similar trends in western Europe, researchers said in the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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The crude birth rate in Italy fell by 9% last year, while Spain saw an 8% drop and Portugal saw a 7% drop, the data showed.

These declines, related at least partly to the COVID-19 pandemic, are as much as 50% higher than those reported during the "Great Recession" of 2008-09 and comparable to the drops during the 1918-19 flu pandemic, according to the researchers.

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"For most, having children is part of couples' long-term planning strategy, and an unexpected shock appears to put such plans on hold," study co-author Arnstein Aassve told UPI in an email.

While it is not necessarily the case that fertility is in decline, the pandemic has at least had a postponing effect on family planning, said Aassve, a professor of demographics at Bocconi University in Milan.

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There were 56 births per 1,000 people of child-bearing age in the United States in 2020, an all-time low, down 4% from 2019, according to data released in May by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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A number of factors may be driving these trends, from fears over the spread of COVID-19 to concerns over financial hardships brought on by the pandemic, Aassve said.

For this analysis, he and his colleagues compared crude birth rates in 22 "high-income" countries globally over a five-year period, from January 2016 through March of this year.

Although some countries -- including South Korea, the Netherlands and several Scandinavian nations -- saw slight increases in their crude birth rates last year, others experienced declines.

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In addition to the United States, Italy, Spain and Portugal, France, Belgium and Austria also had crude birth rate reductions of about 5% in 2020.

In Asia, Singapore and Japan had similar declines.

"Having a sense of optimism for the future seems important for people and, clearly, many would argue that possible job loss and lower income" will affect that, Aasve said.

"Perhaps these factors will become more important when we see [the impact of] the second and third wave, when people realize that the pandemic is going to be around for awhile," he said.

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