Bay Area sees big drop in births compared to pre-pandemic, data shows

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- What many thought would be a COVID-19 baby boom -- after all, we were stuck inside for a long time -- has turned out to be a baby bust in the Bay Area. Data obtained by ABC7 News' data journalism team shows birth rates are down in almost every Bay Area county compared to last year.

In Alameda County, births were down 40% in February 2021 compared to February 2020. In Contra Costa County, births were down 31% year over year. In San Mateo County, it was 23%.

The declines are generally less dramatic in the North Bay. The only county that saw an increase since last year was Sonoma County, where there were two more births recorded in February 2021 compared to February 2020.

See how the number of births in every Bay Area county has changed using the graph below:
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The data we're using is provisional, which means it could change in the future. Births can be registered up to one year later, but those that are reported late to the California Department of Public Health are usually births that occurred outside a hospital setting, according to the department. In 2020, CPDH said there wasn't much of a change between provisional and final data (between 1.8% and 3.8%). Increases in that percentage range are possible for current 2021 data, but the general trend lines seen in the graph above will likely hold once every birth is tabulated.

Most Bay Area counties show birth rates starting to drop off in November and December 2020 -- eight to nine months after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic -- and declining further from there.

The drop isn't a surprise to economists like Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine, who predicted the U.S. would see a massive drop in childbirths as the pandemic triggered a recession, making people less likely to start or grow families. The economists predicted a "coming COVID-19 baby bust" in June 2020, writing we could see anywhere from 300,000 to 500,000 fewer births nationwide. Six months later they stood by their prediction, citing surveys in which about a third of women said they were postponing plans to have children or reducing the number of children they planned to have. Google search trends have also shown a drop in terms related to pregnancy tests or morning sickness.

It's not just economic uncertainty that's making people less likely to procreate -- the pandemic also just isn't particularly sexy. Another survey cited by Kearney and Levine found about half of Americans reported a drop in their sex lives. Lockdowns make it harder for single people to date, plus having kids at home all day, every day makes it harder to set the mood.

While data shows Kearney and Levine's predictions coming true in the Bay Area, it's not yet clear how long the trend might last. As the economy reopens for business, will the same be true of people's bedrooms? We'll have a better idea in about nine months.

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