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COVID-19 & a Baby Boomlet?

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy
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August 23, 2021 11:06 am

COVID-19 & a Baby Boomlet?

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy

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August 23, 2021 11:06 am

This week on Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs sits down with Lyman Stone to discuss his new report “Births are Back: Did Government Stimulus Fuel a Baby Boomlet?” Stone shares how U.S. fertility rates had been declining for over a decade—with a steep drop during 2020—but things seem to be turning around in 2021.  

Rob West and Steve Moore
Rob West and Steve Moore
Family Policy Matters
NC Family Policy

Welcome to Family Policy Matters, an engaging and informative weekly radio show and podcast produced by the North Carolina Family Policy Council. Hi, this is John Rustin, president of NC Family, and we're grateful to have you with us for this week's program. It's our prayer that you will be informed, encouraged, and inspired by what you hear on Family Policy Matters, and that you will feel better equipped to be a voice of persuasion for family values in your community, state, and nation. And now here's our host of Family Policy Matters, Tracy Devitt-Griggs. Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. As much of the world hunkered down in the midst of so many unknowns over the last year, many couples put their plans to have children on hold. Well, today's guest has been watching these trends closely and joins us today to discuss his new report, Births Are Back!

Did Government Stimulus Fuel a Baby Boomlet? Lyman Stone is a research fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and chief information officer of the consulting firm, Demographic Intelligence. Lyman Stone, welcome to Family Policy Matters. Thank you, Tracy.

It's good to be with you. So tell us about this decline in U.S. conceptions in births, and is it still continuing today? We've seen a large decline in births in the first quarter of 2021 and at the end of 2020. This is a bigger decline than you would expect just from the pre-existing trend, suggesting that those early months of COVID were really not a good time to make a baby as far as a lot of Americans were concerned. So it is a pretty sharp decline, and that's what we see during most sort of crisis events in most societies is that conceptions tend to fall, and as a result, births tend to fall nine months later. However, we have seen a bit of a turnaround in recent months. It's a really encouraging sign, because after the 2007-2008 recession, it took a very, very long time, years. In fact, it never really happened that births returned to prior levels.

They kind of never renormalized. The fact that we're seeing a rapid normalization in birth rates after this particular event suggests that it's a cause for optimism, and it's strongly suggested that some of our societies are not going to be able to do that. The societal responses to COVID may have been maybe better than we give ourselves credit for. When you say we're returning to normal, of course you mean pre-COVID levels, but fertility rates had already been declining in the U.S. and other countries in recent decades, right?

So why do you suppose that is? So we've seen a declining fertility rate in really the last 15 years in particular for a variety of reasons. The Great Recession, of course, triggered a major economic shift. There was a very slow recovery and a recovery that didn't really succeed in helping young people build assets very well. We didn't really see any recovery in household wealth of younger households, at least as of 2019.

So that certainly contributed to a durable decline in fertility. And this recovery that I'm talking about, it is just a recovery to 2019 levels. It's not a return to 2007. It's not a baby boom. It's just getting back to those historically low 2019 birth rates. So it's encouraging that maybe COVID isn't going to put us on a permanently lower trajectory. But we're still not in a good place, both due to economic changes, wider social changes, changes in attitudes towards family and children and a whole host of factors.

That's not right or that's not moral. So where does that kind of attitude come from? Yeah, family size prejudice is a significant issue. And it does show up as something that some people are concerned about and have real experiences with.

So, you know, where does this come from? Some of it, I have to say, is those of us who like a big family and have a lot of kids or want a lot of kids, we are adopting a family norm that is very different from the culture we live in. And so it's easy to feel discriminated against or to feel the prejudice of others, even if nothing untoward is intended.

Car seat laws aren't intended to discriminate against you, but they are a hassle. Our society is basically built for two kids. But then as you know, there is sort of another side of this as well, that you do sometimes run into really conscious and overt hostility to large families.

This comes from a variety of places. Sometimes it's a sense that large families are a symbol of cultural backwardness, that it means that women are barefoot in the kitchen, uneducated and, you know, not having an opportunity in life. So you get this sense that large families must necessarily be a sign of oppression and backwardness. Of course, we know that's not true in developed country context, that higher family size is mostly associated with women who report wanting more children.

So their family size is not driven by oppression, but by fulfillment of that specific desire and ambition. And the second place this now comes from is climate concerns and population concerns, that these big families are contributing to climate change. They're not pulling their weight on this social project of fighting climate change. They're making life harder for all the rest of us.

This is total bunk. Large families are more carbon efficient than small families. And of course, having more kids does not increase your income level. And as a result, having more kids not increase your carbon footprint. Credible science based advice on how to deal with climate change, like what we see from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change does not recommend any population related measures to combat climate change. Because they don't work. They don't help.

They have nothing to do with actually tackling the real drivers of climate change. This is one of the many ways NC Family works to educate and inform citizens across North Carolina about policy issues that impact North Carolina families. Our vision is to create a state and nation where God is honored, religious freedom flourishes, families thrive, and life is cherished. For more information about NC Family and how you can help us to achieve this incredible vision for our state and nation, visit our website at Again, that's And be sure to sign up to receive our email updates, action alerts, and of course, our flagship publication Family North Carolina magazine.

We'd also love for you to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. So you mentioned a lot of times when you're talking about the increase in fertility rate, you say this is good news, it's positive. Why for those people who may not have followed this, why is it important that we have a strong birth rate? What does this do for us? There's what does this do for us?

And what does this do for me? So for me, I want a certain number of kids. Maybe there's a little bit of wiggle room on it, but broadly, I have an idea of the family I want to have. And most people have an idea of the family they want to have.

And on average, most people say that they want two or three kids. Well, right now, the total fertility rate in the US is only about 1.6 and change, which means on average, people are gonna have one or two kids, which means on average, people are going to be missing one child they wanted to have. So what does this do for us at the society level hardly even matters, when you consider that the first problem is just that there's a lot of people who want a certain family life that they're just not going to get. So the first thing it does is that we just have a lot more disappointment, unfulfilled hopes. And as as people age, loneliness and isolation in our society, that is as long as fertility rates are below what people say they want, we've got a problem no matter what the other social consequences may be. However, there are other social consequences, particularly in well educated societies. Low fertility rates are associated with less entrepreneurship, less technological innovation are associated with lower rates of per capita economic growth. They're associated with higher inequality, lower economic mobility in countries that have good, you know, health and education systems like like the US, higher fertility is economic and social boon to society, and low fertility creates long term challenges. So talk about what some of those long term challenges might be, you just gave us some of the positives of a growing fertility rate. What what could some of the negatives be?

Well, they're kind of just the inverse of the positives, right? So if higher fertility rates lead to say, more economic dynamism in the form of, you know, more, more entrepreneurship and more innovation, well, lower fertility just has the opposite effect. Lower economic dynamism, you need a real estate market is a nice example and say, well, what happens to real estate values when population is growing? On the whole, they go up. When a given metro area has a growing population, real estate demand is strong and prices tend to rise. And so those of us with real estate wealth tend to do well. When population is falling, though, what happens? Well, there's less demand for houses, there's fewer buyers for each seller, prices tend to fall. Your report is entitled Births Are Back Did Government Stimulus Fuel a Baby Boomlet?

So what's the answer to that question? There's kind of two big drivers, we think, of this return to normal fertility. The first one is that over the summer of 2020, many Americans, they'd already shifted to remote work.

But as we got hit by a second wave in the summer of 2020 of COVID, a lot of people realized that COVID was going to be around for a long time. And a lot of employers began adopting more permanent remote work plans. And a lot of employees started to realize, huh, I'm going to be remote work a long time. And remote work, we know from prior research, promotes fertility. When people have better remote work options, they're more likely to have babies.

So this shift to remote work, and especially people's expectation that remote work was going to stick around for a while to come, probably eased people into a place where they felt comfortable having a child. Now, the economic situation was very bad around them. But this gets to the second major driver, which is government support. That even though the economic time was bad, family household incomes actually rose during COVID. And that was because of stimulus checks, generous unemployment insurance, expanded child tax credit. These kinds of programs that effectively gave Americans massive per person financial payments, gave them de facto paid maternity leave that made it so that families could kind of make the transition they might have wanted to make for a while. So on all these two factors, more generous support for families. And of course, it was for families because most aid was given on a per person basis. So more generous support for families. And then also the shift to remote work combined to really give people the confidence they needed to have a child. Are there some government policies that you think we should be considering in light of what you're seeing on the data trends?

Absolutely. So I think one thing is that we should be thinking about ways that we can facilitate this transition towards remote work. Can governments do something to where practicable and where economical to facilitate a faster shift? And I just say faster because a lot of jobs are headed this way, one way or another. So to a considerable extent, what we're really thinking about is not can we make a job become remote, but can we make it remote in 2023 instead of 2027? So accelerating the shift to remote work is an important thing. And then another is extending the generous child tax credit. Obviously, we might prefer some other specific program designs and there's tweaking that could be done. But in general, maintaining generous direct cash support for childbearing is an essential component of any serious policy to support American families.

If you're not supporting direct cash transfers to families on the basis of fertility, and you're not really doing anything to support family and fertility. Well, we're just about out of time for this week. But before we go, Lyman Stone, where can our listeners go to read your report and to learn more about your work? The report we're discussing today is published at the Institute for Family Studies, where I'm a research fellow. And of course, you can always follow me on Twitter where I tweet often prolifically and on a variety of related and unrelated topics at LymanStoneKY.

All right. Lyman Stone, author of the new report, Births Are Back. Did government stimulus fuel a baby boomlet? Thanks so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters. You've been listening to Family Policy Matters. We hope you enjoyed the program and plan to tune in again next week. To listen to the show online and to learn more about NC Families work to inform, encourage and inspire families across North Carolina, go to our website at That's Thanks again for listening and may God bless you and your family. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-13 19:49:56 / 2023-09-13 19:55:22 / 5

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