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Early data suggests B.C. headed towards 'baby bust' due to COVID-19

Provincial data shows December 2020 with a decade-record low in babies born
Photo: Baby/Pixabay

Data available on the provincial government’s website suggests a decline in British Columbia’s birth rate not seen in at least a decade.

Monthly totals collected from the province's birth by local health area numbers average around 3,600 births per month across the province. December 2020 though saw a more than 20 per cent decrease from that average with a decade record low of 2,774 births. While cautiously awaiting more data, experts agree this decline is both a direct result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and a consistent global trend in nations heavily affected by the virus.


Applying similar historical trends

Kate Choi is a family demographer, inequality scholar, and quantitative sociologist who is currently working as an associate professor of sociology at Western University in Ontario, Canada. Choi believes this trend is not unique to Canada having seen birth rates decline in the United States and East Asia due to COVID-19.

"It is following a pattern that is consistent with historical patterns that fertility tends to decrease when there is in fact a longer lasting and deadly catastrophe," Choi said in an interview with Vancouver Is Awesome.

Choi noted it would be helpful to see the numbers as the months progress to give a more detailed analysis but so far the falling birth rate does follow historical examples. For instance, Choi mentioned there was no such birth rate decline during the 10 hour blackout New York City experienced in 1965 as opposed to the decline seen following the Spanish Flu of 1918.

Couples spending more time indoors… surely that would make more babies?

Again, more numbers will have to be seen in order to make any certain claims as to what the birth rate will do in the coming months but Choi says this could feed into a slowing birth rate worldwide.

"Already fertility is steadily decreasing for most of the developing countries," Choi  said "It's more likely the case that the trend toward smaller families is being accelerated rather than a baby boom-like surge right after the COVID-19 pandemic."

The reason for the decrease Choi says is put simply, a great deal of uncertainty. Additional data will point more directly to which issue most affected B.C.’s birth rate but Choi says there are a number of issues that affect birth rates that have already been identified in other countries.

Chief among those reasons was uncertainty with the economy and job security coupled with the already rising costs of child rearing. Closely related to the economics point is housing security, followed by personal safety or safety of the baby. 

While empirical evidence says pregnant women were no more likely to catch COVID-19 than others of a similar age, if they did catch the virus they were more likely to contract more severe forms of it. 

“They're more likely to end up in the hospital, they're more likely to be in a ventilator,” she said. “In this particular pandemic women may actually fear becoming pregnant given the consequences towards their health."

Choi went on to say there have been studies that have shown that infants who contract the virus at the time of delivery can also become susceptible to severe forms of the disease.

Who and what this has the biggest impact on 

Nathanael Lauster is a sociologist and demographer working as an associate professor at the University of British Columbia. Speaking with Vancouver is Awesome, Lauster said going forward he wouldn’t be surprised if the downward trend continues for B.C. but can’t say definitively.

"It's quite possible that we'll end up with a significant dearth, a drop in births throughout the whole year," Lauster said. "For some people this may end up being a bit of a inequality story.”

Lauster explained that if people were able to work at home their job security remained relatively unchanged, meaning they could afford to have children. Those who worked in the hospitality sector for instance may not be so lucky.  

As to how this information affects the daily lives of British Columbians, it might not have that much of an impact at all Lauster says. 

"Certainly it affects at a very pragmatic level things like planning for how many kids are going to be in school. We want to know how many kids are coming in order to plan ahead and this will I think disrupt that," he said "We may end up with school projections and understandings of how many kids we have to plan for that are significantly off.”

Lauster also said the numbers came as no real surprise to anyone who studies demographics or sociology. 

"If we really thought that spending lots of time with your partner would increase people's sexual appetites then maybe that would change,” he said.