The birth rate in the United States fell to a record low last year, with the fewest babies being born in 35 years. Experts are predicting the trend to continue, and warn the coronavirus could cause an even sharper decline in future years.

Statistics released May 19 by the Centers for Disease Control National Center for Health Statistics show that, in 2019, 3.75 million children were born – a drop of 1% from 2018. The figures also show a 2% drop in overall fertility, with only 58.2 births registered for every 1,000 women between the ages of 15-44. This is the lowest rate since records began in 1909.

The overall fertility rate now stands at 1.7, well below the 2.1 needed for population replacement.

Birthrates have been in steady decline for more than a decade following a peak before the 2008 financial crisis. The 2019 statistics show falling fertility across all age groups except one, women in their 40s.

Dr. Catherine Pakaluk, Assistant Professor of Social Research and Economic thought at the Catholic University of America, told CNA that the data confirms the ongoing trend seen over the last decade, and that the current coronavirus pandemic is likely to further depress fertility.

“The downward trend in birth rates observed in the last several years is not a flash in the pan,” she told CNA. “Unfortunately, the economic devastation ushered in by COVID-19 is likely to make late 2020 worse, and 2021 worse still.”

Many have speculated that months of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders could result in a mini “baby boom,” and that 2020 figures might show a spike in births towards the end of the year. But, Pakaluk warned, this optimism could prove to be unfounded.

“You’ll hear lots of people joke about couples on lockdown with nothing better to do than ‘make a baby’. But that’s just wishful thinking.”

“Plenty of evidence says that unemployment is one of the best predictors of negative fertility shocks. With new jobless claims approaching a staggering 40 million, there are many couples, sadly, who will choose not to have a baby that they already conceived -abortion- and certainly many more who will postpone a baby they were hoping to have this year or next,” she said.

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