In 2020, the world’s first year of living dangerously with Covid, a smaller share of Americans had children than in the year prior. Most of this birth rate fall was part of the ongoing trend toward decline that has been underway since 2007 (December 2007 saw the start of the Great Recession, which ended in June 2009).

Because the pandemic started in March 2020, the only month in which children born in 2020 were conceived during the pandemic was December (children conceived in April 2020 = born in 2021), though decisions around termination of pregnancies conceived before March may have been affected by the pandemic as well. Potential parents’ choices around procreation over the rest of 2020 and beyond will only be fully apparent when we see the birth data for 2021.

The overall birth rate fell from 58.3 births per fertile woman (age 15-44) in 2019 to 56 in 2020, a decline of 4%. Since 2007, the birth rate among US women overall has fallen 19.2%.

Births to teens (age 15-19) fell from 16.7 in 2019 to 15.4 in 2020, a decline of 7.8%. This seems likely to have been affected by both increased use of contraception and diminished social contact due to quarantines in March 2020. Since 2007, the birth rate among US teens 15-19 has fallen 62.9%, due in major part to the availability of Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARCs). This links to an increased ability among teens to complete high school and establish at work (high school graduation rates increased by 7 percentage points, from 79% to 86%, between 2010 and 2019, per the National Center for Education Statistics – further data yet to be released).

Rates to non-teens decreased across the board between 2019 and 2020, as follows: The birthrate for women 20-24 declined 5.4%; the rate for women 25-29 declined 3.7%; for women 30-34 it was 3.5%; for women 35-39, 1.9%; and for women 40-44 the rate declined 1.7% between 2019 and 2020. Of these rates, all had been falling previously except those for women 35-39 and 40-44.

Longer term, between 2007 and 2020, the birthrates for teens (as noted above) declined 62.9%. For women 20-24 the rate declined 40.2%; the rate for women 25-29 declined 23.6%; for women 30-34 it was 5.6%; for women 35-39, the birth rate rose 8.8%; and for women 40-44 the rate rose 22.9%. This suggests an ongoing pattern of delayed childbearing as well as what may prove to be an increase in the proportion of women (and men) remaining childfree. Women who refrain from having children early on may still raise the same number of children if they start later, but we won’t know the overall ripple effect of delay on individuals’ total fertility until those in their teens and 20s in 2007 and after reach their mid 40s. Delay will also affect individuals’ education, workforce-participation and earning levels.


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