one baby in row of otherwise empty hospital bassinets (Photo: Shutterstock)

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The economic and public health fallout of the COVID-19 pandemiccould result in an impending "baby bust." A new report published byBrookings suggests that the U.S. could see a decline of between300,000 to 500,000 births if the labor market continues to sufferbeyond this year.

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Economic factors have impacted birth rates throughouthistory, say authors Melissa S. Kearney, anonresident senior fellow at Brookings, and Phillip Levine, aprofessor of economics at Wellesley College.

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"In the analytical terms of economic modeling, adults 'choose'the quantity of children that maximizes their lifetime well-beingsubject to the costs associated with childbearing. Such a frameworkpredicts, all else equal, that a higher level of lifetime incomeleads people to have more children," reads the report.

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However, Kearney and Levine use the historical context of theGreat Recession of 2002- 2009 and the 1918 Spanish Flu toillustrate that the opposite is true as well. For example, thereport cites a 9% drop from 2007- 2012 in the rate of births perwomen ages 15 to 44, which equates to nearly 400,000 fewerbirths.

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Parallels to 2020 may be found in an economy that has beensimilarly battered into a recession, only this time by the ongoingCOVID-19 pandemic. The report points to Federal Reserve forecaststhat place the unemployment rate at 9.3% through the end of theyear, as well as other predictions that estimate 42% of recent joblosses will be permanent.

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Kearney and Levine expect birth rates to respond accordingly."An analysis of the Great Recession leads us to predict that womenwill have many fewer babies in the short term, and for some ofthem, a lower total number of children over their lifetimes," readsthe report.

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But it's not just the economics that could potentially drive thenumber of U.S. births downward. The psychological effects of thepandemic could also have a lasting impact, an argument that thereport grounds in the fallout from the 1918 Spanish Flu, which sawa 12.5% drop in birth rates.

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"The drop in births that resulted from the Spanish flu waslikely due to the uncertainty and anxiety that a public healthcrisis can generate, which could affect people's desire to givebirth, and also biologically affect pregnancy and birth outcomes,"reads the report.

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However,  Kearney and Levine suggested that COVID-19'simpact on birthing rates could be more severe than the Spanish flu,since wartime needs were continuing to drive manufacturing in 1918despite the spread of the disease.

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They anticipate that the psychological impact of the pandemic aswell as lasting job losses will result in at least a 7 to 10% dropin births next year.

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"We expect that many of these births will not just be delayed –but will never happen. There will be a COVID-19 baby bust," readsthe report.

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Frank Ready

Frank Ready is a reporter on the tech desk at ALM Media. He can be reached at [email protected].