Last updated on December 8th, 2020 at 03:12 pm
This article is reproduced with the kind permission of the Salon Beige where it was originally published (nde).
An article by Opinion refers to the Italian demographic winter, aggravated by the pandemic. By losing about 700,000 residents over the last five years, Italy has fallen below 60 million inhabitants for the first time since 2013. The pandemic has made Italy’s demographic situation even more difficult, in a country with a fertility rate of 1.3 children per woman.
Some may have thought that containment would lead to higher birth rates… but, American researchers say in one study, that in the United States alone,500,000 children may not see the light of day next year because of the epidemic. Laurent Chalard explains on Atlantico :
These American researchers, who are economists and not demographers, do not rely on actual statistical data, since by definition children conceived since the Covid-19 health crisis have not yet been born, but on statistical models. These are based on the the basic assumption that the post-Covid-19 birth rate in the United States will be the same as that observed in the United States during the previous economic crisis of 2007-2009 and during the previous major health crisis, the Spanish flu in 1918, both of which led to a reduction in the birth rate. Broadly speaking, with regard to the economic impact, the hypothesis is that the drop in income mechanically leads some households to delay the birth of a child, resulting in a lower birth rate. Concerning the health crisis itself, the hypothesis appears different because, this time, it is based on the fact that mortality peaks are for the population a source of uncertainty and anxiety about the future, in a temporary context of social distancing, unfavourable to the maternity project. If the argument seems to hold water, it is nevertheless essentially an intellectual exercise because the authors make hazardous comparisons, since Covid-19 has only a very limited mortality compared to Spanish flu and hardly concerns people of childbearing age. Similarly, the link between economic development and birth rates is not as systematic as it seems, as fertility cycles in developed countries appear to be disconnected from economic cycles. Finally, the conclusions of these researchers are based on a certain economic determinism, resembling media “sales prophecies”, but whose fulfilment is reasonably doubtful, even if it is likely that the structural trend of a declining birth rate in the United States will continue in 2021.
Traditionally, episodes such as blackouts (massive power outages) are said to encourage a small increase in the birth rate. With a confinement that has forced intimacy but has hard hit couples psychologically, should we expect a variation in the birth rate in the coming months, one way or the other?
The confinements that France experienced in 2020, by their duration (3 months of very significant traffic restrictions in the same year) and their psychological impact (including existential questions at the key), cannot be compared to blackouts, which have no impact on the birth rate, contrary to popular belief. Concerning the possible consequences of these confinements on the French birth rate, a perfectly legitimate question from a scientific point of view, given their unprecedented nature, two hypotheses are possible. The first is that couples who found themselves alone without work had much more time to devote to the conception of a child, thus temporarily stimulating the birth rate (for 3 months), all the more so since, for a certain number of our fellow citizens, confinement was an opportunity for deep reflection on the meaning of their lives and a process of slowing down their pace of life and disconnection from work, elements that were rather favourable to new projects, including that of conceiving a first or a new child. The second hypothesis, which is similar to that put forward by American researchers in the United States, is that, faced with the fear of a bleak future and the severe economic crisis that has been announced, a number of couples have preferred to postpone conceiving a child this year, leading to a reduction in the birth rate next year. In fact, the relationship to motherhood has probably varied greatly between couples, making it impossible to determine in advance which trend will have prevailed! We will have a start on our response in the spring of 2021, when INSEE will publish the first provisional data on the birth rate in January 2021.