There may be an explosion in sniggering about bedroom antics during lockdown but we should not expect a baby boom, leading researchers say.
In fact, Australians are tipped to ride out the pandemic with their bank balance and job prospects as greater priorities than growing their families.
Peter McDonald, Professor of Demography at the University of Melbourne’s School of Population and Global Health, said while the coronavirus situation is unique, there are many historical pointers that a baby boom is not in the offing.
“The COVID lockdown is unique in the low fertility context, from say the 1970s onwards. So, I don’t think there is any precedent that can be followed in relation to the impact of a lockdown on fertility,” Professor McDonald said.
Fertility today is pretty closely controlled, so the impact of accidents is likely to be very small.’’
Professor McDonald says there are many examples of birth rates falling sharply during economic downturns, and expects COVID19 will be no different.
“Having a baby for most, not all, people is a statement about their confidence in their future,” he said.
“If they are not feeling confident, and economic downturns affect younger people more than older people, many will delay the baby.
“A delayed birth can be a birth that, for various reasons, never happens.
“There were very large falls in fertility associated with the 1890s and 1930s economic downturns in Australia. Less obviously, but this probably also applies to the recessions in the early 1970s and early 1990s.
“The economic impacts of COVID will generate uncertainty among many young people in Australia and we can expect that births will be delayed which, at least in the short term, reduces the fertility rate.
“So, from January 2021, we can expect a negative effect of COVID on Australian fertility.”
Social media users have a different take on the matter, with most of us noticing we are in bed more and many young people anecdotally noting an uptick in pregnancies among their friends.
But again, the evidence suggests otherwise.
While there’s scant up-to-date research on life in lockdown, one study of prospective parents conducted at Italy’s University of Florence suggests the reports of more sex during the pandemic may be wishful thinking.
After 1482 online interviews, the study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology determined sex frequency had gone unchanged, with 66.3 per cent of respondents who were not interested in having children before or during the pandemic saying that their bedroom habits haven’t changed that much.
More than 81 per cent of respondents said they were not looking to conceive while the pandemic was raging.
The study’s main author Elisabetta Micelli said economic fears were the main reason.
“The fear of imminent and future economic instabilities led those who were searching for a pregnancy to stop their intention in 58 per cent of cases,” Dr Micelli said.
And while European nations and Australia may be expecting a decline in birth numbers, some poorer countries are worried that existing inequality will be made worse because of boredom during lockdowns.
In Nepal, where contraception is difficult to access, many men are returning home to rural areas because of lockdowns in the city, prompting fears of a baby boom in hard economic times.
In Australia, it has been the greater education and access to contraception for young women that has reduced the birth rate in recent years.
In 2017-18 the Australian fertility rate fell to below 1.7 births per woman for the first time in our history, mainly due to fewer children being born to women below the age of 25.
“Women in the recent past who give birth under the age of 25 are primarily those with no-post secondary education and low employment prospects,” Professor McDonald said.
“It looks like they are now deciding to control their fertility.
“For the past 40 years, Australia’s fertility rate has fluctuated between 1.7 and 2 per cent … and this is a good result from the perspective of demographic structure and the future economy.
“In demographic terms, a fertility rate below 1.5 leads fairly quickly to rapid population decline, falling labour supplies and hyper-ageing.”
And for those young Australians who are born from the lockdown, Professor McDonald believes there will be an upside.
“Those born in 2021 and 2020 will be smaller in number than those born before and after, and this may have some effects on their opportunities. They should be advantaged by this.”