Boom or bust? The COVID-19 crisis emphasizes wider fertility challenges

17 June 2021 Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty Africa

Executive summary:

The Covid-19 pandemic not only caused millions of premature deaths, but it had also an impact on the number of births. In high-income countries the number of live births declined to record lows in 2020 as pregnancies were postponed. With motherhood increasingly being delayed to later ages, the pandemic could therefore have lasting effects on demographic change, contributing further to the aging of societies.

In the EU, the number of newborns declined by around -3% to 4.1mn in 2020 as most of the 27 member countries, except for Finland, Luxembourg and Malta, reported a decrease of the number of live births. The Baltic countries, Poland, Romania, Ireland and Spain witnessed the sharpest declines, ranging from -5.6% in Ireland and Spain to -10.6% in Romania. And in France, the number of live births fell below 700,000 for the first time since 1945. On the other side of the Atlantic, the US recorded merely 3.6mn newborns in 2020, which was the lowest number since 1979 . Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan also witnessed a further decline in the numbers of newborns. These developments correspond with the observation that in times of economic crisis, rising unemployment rates and uncertainty, fertility plans are postponed.

However, while the Covid-19 pandemic amplified existing demographic trends in high-income countries and caused further declines in the number of newborns, the United Nations Population Fund estimates that as many as 1.4 million unplanned pregnancies have occurred in low- and middle-income countries, where women often only had limited access to family planning services as a result of the Covid-19 crisis.

Boom or bust? For all those who hoped for a post-crisis baby boom to compensate for the declines in 2020, the crucial question is whether plans for having children have merely been postponed or whether they will be abandoned. In this respect, economic development and especially the decline of unemployment among the younger age groups play an important role as a stable relationship and a stable income are crucial factors in the decision to become parents. Yet, the decline is here to stay: The number of births also depends on the number of potential mothers, but in Europe and East Asia, the number of women of childbearing age has already started to fall, the consequence of lower birth rates since the 1970s.

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