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The COVID-19 pandemic is so different from anything we have ever experienced yet it is compared to natural disasters and outbreaks we have had in the past. The differences between our experiences with the coronavirus are its vastness, its unpredictability, and its duration. It’s like we’ve been stranded on an island with basically no idea when to get off.
We are used to interacting with others from the outside, from sporting events and concerts to dinners with friends. Our usual human contact and distractions have been taken away and we face severe limitations, emotional and financial pressures and distress over the health of those who are close to us and ourselves.
Ultimately, this pandemic is compared to previous terrorist attacks and natural disasters, which in some ways were comparatively smaller and could be measured against a more or less predictable schedule. Will COVID-19 bring more babies? Will more couples break up when we’re “normal” again? At some point statisticians will try to draw parallels.
A baby boom?
Historically, and in many cases, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and power outages have influenced the birth rate. The consensus is that after such events there will be a baby boom. But is it true?
- The 1965 New York City blackout. A power outage caused New York to go dark for 10 hours. Nine months later, the New York Times and other media outlets hyped a surge in births. In 1970, however, J. Richard Udry compared the statistics for the previous five years to find that the births did not increase due to the blackout.
- Hurricanes. In terms of fertility, hurricanes appear to be closely related to the severity of the warnings. The less strict the warnings, the more babies appear to have been conceived. A study of storm alerts in the Atlantic and Gulf regions, “The Fertility Effect of Disasters: Births from US Hurricanes,” tracked births nine months after major storms. In contrast to media coverage of post-disaster baby booms, researchers in the Journal of Population Economics suggest that much of the media coverage on the subject is “exaggerated” or “mixed” and the effects could be temporary. As you can see, nine months after a disaster, there is not much agreement about an increase in babies.
Drs. Catherine Cohan, research fellow at Pennsylvania State University, and Steve W. Cole, colleague at the University of California at Los Angeles, examined data after Hurricane Hugo in 1989 Post-Hurricane Divorce Hugo “in the Journal of Family Psychology” reported that the year after the hurricane, marriage, birth and divorce rates rose in the 24 disaster-designated counties. They note, “The results suggest that a life-threatening event motivated people to take meaningful actions in their close relationships that changed the course of their lives.”
I tend to believe that divorces will increase if we join forces with our spouses with whom we don’t have as much one-on-one conversation. The lack of freedom and day-to-day struggles, coupled with the emotional and financial consequences, are likely to take their toll on marriages. In a recent CNBC report, the lawyers agreed:
“To some, living in lockdown due to the coronavirus may feel similar to holidays like Christmas – but that’s not necessarily a good thing as longer periods of time together can create or break a relationship,” British divorce attorney Baroness Fiona Shackleton said Belgravia the British Parliament. She added: “The sector’s lawyers had predicted a likely increase in divorce rates after ‘self-imposed’ imprisonment.”
The divorce following the September 11th World Trade Center attack tells a different story and one that may or may not prove applicable after COVID-19. Catherine Cohan, Ph.D., and her colleagues examined divorce petitions in New York City and neighboring communities. Findings from this study, Divorce After the September 11th Terrorism, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, may contradict your opinion: “Preserving marriage appears to be an immediate response to the deadly threat that however, it relaxes as soon as the threat is less acute. Under extreme stress, insecurity and threat conditions, people maintain the status quo and forego major changes in their lives. ”
Unlike natural disasters like Hurricane Hugo, when divorces increased, divorces decreased in counties in and around the area after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Similarly, Cohan found that after the World Trade Center bombing, another man-made disaster, divorce rates fell in New York City and the suburbs studied.
Still, Cohan’s concerns about COVID-19 are similar to mine. She told me, “I have some significant concerns that the stress of extended detention and economic hardship associated with the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to an increase in domestic violence and divorce over the next year.”
COVID-19 cannot be properly classified as a power outage, terrorist attack, or natural disaster like hurricane or earthquake. Despite similarities in the way it destroys our lives, it is a unit in itself, with possible repercussions and aftershocks within the family. One does not have to ask whether, but how, COVID-19 will ultimately change marriage contracts and birth rates.
Women have had fewer babies for years. The decline in the birth rate has been steady. During the Great Recession in 2008, the birth rate fell dramatically and remained low. It hit a record low in 2018, or a 15 percent decline since 2007, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics.
Given that women are waiting longer to start families and the families they are raising are smaller, this pandemic is unlikely to increase the birth rate. We won’t have the answers for a long time, but pre-pandemic patterns, opinions and indicators suggest that the birth rate may remain low and the divorce rate may rise.
Does COVID-19 Affect How You Think About Having A Baby Or Stay In Relationship With Your Partner? Please share your thoughts in the comment section. You can reply anonymously if you prefer.
Copyright @ 2020 by Susan Newman.