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The COVID-19 pandemic is so different from anything we have known, but it will be compared to natural disasters and epidemics that we have experienced in the past. The differences between our experiences with the coronavirus are its vastness, unpredictability, and duration. It’s like we’re stranded on an island with no idea when we can get off.
We are used to external involvement with others, to entertainment from sporting events and concerts to dinners with friends. Our usual human contacts and diversions have been suppressed, and we are confined with severe limitations, emotional and financial pressures, and distress regarding the health of our loved ones and ourselves.
Ultimately, this pandemic will be compared to past terrorist attacks and natural disasters which were, in some ways, on a smaller scale and could be measured in terms of a more or less predictable timeframe. Will more babies be born due to COVID-19? Will more couples separate when we get back to “normal”? At some point, statisticians will try to draw parallels.
A baby boom?
Historically and in many cases, natural disasters, terrorist attacks and blackouts have affected the birth rate. The consensus thought is that as a result of such events there will be a baby boom. But is it true?
- The 1965 New York City Blackout. A power failure sank New York City for 10 hours. Nine months later The New York Times and other media had reported an increase in births. However, in 1970 J. Richard Udry compared statistics for the previous five years to find no increase in births resulting from the blackout.
- Hurricanes. When it comes to fertility, hurricanes seem to be closely related to the severity of the warnings. The less severe the warnings, the more babies seem to be conceived. A study of storm warnings in the Atlantic and Gulf regions, “The Fertility Effect of Catastrophe: US Hurricane Births,” tracked births nine months after major storms. Contrary to media reports of baby boomers after a disaster, researchers Journal of Population Economics suggest that much of the media coverage on this topic is “overdone” or “mixed” and that the effects may be temporary. As you can see, there is not much agreement on an increase in the number of babies nine months after a disaster.
Drs. Catherine Cohan, an assistant research professor at Pennsylvania State University, and her fellow researcher Steve W. Cole at the University of California, Los Angeles examined data after Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Their analysis, ” life and natural disasters: marriage, Birth and divorce after hurricane Hugo ”, in the Journal of Family Psychology, “Reported that the year following the hurricane, marriage, birth and divorce rates increased in the 24 counties declared disaster areas.” They note that “the results suggest that a life-threatening event motivated people to take important steps in their close relationships that changed their life course.”
I’m inclined to believe that we will see a slight increase in divorces resulting from the stress of being confined with our spouses who we are not used to spending so much one-on-one time with. The lack of freedom and the daily struggles, coupled with the emotional and financial fallout, will likely take its toll on marriages. In a recent CNBC report, lawyers agreed:
“For some, life locked out because of the coronavirus may feel like a vacation like Christmas, but that’s not necessarily a good thing, as extended periods together can prove the success or failure of a relationship. “said British divorce lawyer Baroness Fiona Shackleton of Belgravia. the British parliament. She added: “that lawyers in the industry had predicted a likely increase in divorce rates following ‘self-imposed lockdown'”.
Divorce after the September 11 World Trade Center attack tells a different story, and one that may or may not be applicable in the aftermath of COVID-19. Catherine Cohan, Ph.D., and her colleagues have reviewed divorce petitions in New York City as well as in neighboring communities. The results of this study “Divorce following the September 11 attacks” published in the Journal of social and personal relationships, may be contrary to what you think: “Preserving marriage seems like an immediate response to a deadly threat, but loosens once the threat is less acute. Under conditions of extreme stress, uncertainty and threat, people maintain the status quo and refrain from making a major life change.
Unlike natural disasters like Hurricane Hugo when divorces increased, after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, divorces declined in counties in and around the site. Likewise, Cohan discovered after the World Trade Center bombing, another man-made disaster, that divorce rates had declined in New York City and the suburbs studied.
Nonetheless, Cohan’s concerns about COVID-19 are similar to mine. She told me: “I am very concerned that the stress of the prolonged lockdown and economic hardships associated with the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to an increase in domestic violence and divorces over the next year.”
COVID-19 cannot be categorized as a blackout, terrorist attack, or natural disaster like hurricane or earthquake. Despite the similarities in how it breaks up our lives, it is an entity unto itself with eventual repercussions and aftershocks within the family. The question is, not if, but how COVID-19 will ultimately change marriage contracts and birth rates.
For years, women have had fewer babies. The fall in the birth rate is constant. During the Great Recession of 2008, the birth rate fell dramatically and remained low, reaching an all-time high in 2018, a 15% drop since 2007, as data from the National Center for Health Statistics shows.
Given that women wait longer to start their families and the families they start are smaller, it seems unlikely that this pandemic will increase the birth rate. We won’t have answers for a very long time, but trends, opinions and indicators before the pandemic suggest the birth rate will remain low and the divorce rate could rise.
Is COVID-19 affecting the way you plan to have a baby or stay in the relationship with your partner? Please share your thoughts in the comments section. You can respond anonymously if you prefer.
Copyright @ 2020 by Susan Newman.