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The Trauma of COVID-19: The Birth Number Plummet Globally

In the past years, a tremendous pandemic, COVID-19, has led to a global economic recession, women’s unemployment and poverty rates have risen sharply, and income uncertainty and unemployment levels have generally increased. As a result, factors such as unemployment risks and income declines have made people’s attitudes toward marriage and childbearing more severe and harmful.

Fertility is the source of population increase and the decisive factor for population change in a stable low-mortality era. The fertility level of countries (regions) in the world is generally declining. The total fertility rate of the world as a whole has dropped from 4.97 in 1950 to 2.47 now, and it is expected to drop to the replacement level of 2.10 in 2065 (United Nations, 2019).

In the context of the "gray rhino" event of declining fertility, the "black swan" event of the global COVID-19 pandemic broke out. The ravages of the COVID-19 epidemic have brought a series of negative impacts on human society: increased mortality, stagnant or regressing economic growth, increased unemployment, loss of personal and family property, lower income levels, increased time spent at home, forced production, and lifestyle change.

The combination of many factors causes people to postpone the conclusion of marriage, suppress the willingness to bear children, and delay or cancel childbearing arrangements, which will lead to changes in the birth population.

Although international experience shows that catastrophic events with high mortality, such as famines, earthquakes, and major epidemics, will cause an average decline in the birth rate of about 10% to 15% after nine months, however, scholars believe that the current social and economic conditions are pretty different from the situation when historical events occurred. The birth transition stages of different countries are also very different. Therefore, the experience of historical events for reference is relatively limited.

Throughout human history, any major catastrophic event will lead to fluctuations in fertility rates. The broader the scope of disaster events, the more people will be affected, the higher the fatality rate will be, and the fertility rate will fluctuate more violently. Epidemics and environment-related disaster events may harm fertility.

For example, compared with the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, young people of childbearing age and pregnant women faced a lower risk of serious illness, a lower sense of security, a higher burden of disease, unemployment, and pandemic response delays in marriage and childbirth.

Existing data show that most low-fertility countries have already experienced a "birth recession" and are facing a further decline in the fertility rate. From November to December 2020, the number of births in 15 EU countries decreased by 5.0% and 8.0% year-on-year, respectively, and the United States fell by 7.7%. In January 2021, births in Spain, Russia, and France fell by 20%, 10.3%, and 13.5%, respectively.

In the first few months of 2021, the number of births in European and American countries is still declining at an accelerated rate. In 2021, the number of births and the total fertility rate in many countries will hit a record low.

Things went the same in China. Affected by the epidemic, from February to May 2020, China's unemployment rate reached about 6%, severely impacting residents' employment and income. In the first quarter of 2020, the number of marriage registrations decreased by 45% year-on-year, and the number of marriage registrations in the whole year decreased by 12.2% year-on-year, hitting a new low in recent years.

The sharp decrease in the number of marriages has led to a shrinkage in the size of the potential one-child birth population in the short term, which will boost the rapid decline in births in 2020 and harm births in 2021.

The social shutdown caused by the epidemic (such as the closure of many nursery institutions, the general suspension of classes in kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, etc.) has significantly increased the burden on women. According to the survey, more than half of the respondents said their care work during the epidemic increased. The aggravation of women's childbearing and parenting difficulties may further reduce women's willingness to bear children.


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