Projections Show U.S. Birth Rate Declined by 4.3% in 25 States in 2020

Births during the coronavirus pandemic have fallen dramatically in many states, according to an Associated Press analysis of preliminary data from half the country.

Data from 25 states suggests an 8% decline in births from December 2020 to February 2021. That three-month span had about 41,000 fewer births than the same period a year earlier. Births for all of 2020 were down 4.3 percent from 2019.

"When there's a crisis, I don't think people are thinking about reproduction," said Dr. John Santelli, a Columbia University professor of population and family health who reviewed the AP's analysis.

Before the pandemic, the number of babies born in the U.S. was falling, dropping by less than 1% a year over the past decade. The AP credits the decline to women postponing motherhood and having smaller families.

The AP's analysis included 24 states that provided data on births to residents. Joining them in the analysis was California, the most populous state, which provided data on all births that happened in the state, including among visitors.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to provide a national picture later this year. But the data for the 25 states is not expected to change substantially as preliminary birth numbers usually end up being close to the final counts, experts said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Birth Rate Decline 2021 U.S.
Early data from 25 states shows that the birth rate in U.S. has dramatically decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Above, a pregnant woman poses for photos before the Manhattan skyline at sunset in a park in Williamsburg, New York, on April 20, 2021. Ed JONES/AFP via Getty Images

The AP's findings echo projections by researchers at the Brookings Institution and elsewhere, who have predicted a sizable drop in births this year.

"The widespread consensus is there is going to be a decline," said Hans-Peter Kohler, a University of Pennsylvania researcher who focuses on fertility and health.

It didn't look that way to some around March 2020, when much of America was cooped up inside. Some figured couples had more time together and some women might find it harder to run out and get birth control, leading to at least a small uptick in births.

For Bryan and Katie Basamanowicz, it was more complicated than that.

The couple had planned to try to have a baby last summer to provide their son, Simon, with a younger sibling, but then came COVID-19 and the lockdown.

For a time "it was so intense and scary" that the couple thought they would have to put off trying to conceive, said Bryan, 39, a managing editor at a small publishing house who lives in Ventura, California.

But then a lull occurred in the early summer, as the first wave of COVID-19 illnesses waned and lockdowns were eased. The couple decided to try after all. Then cases started surging again.

"We decided: 'Let's put this on hold,'" said Katie, a 32-year-old teacher. But it turned out to be too late: A pregnancy test came back positive in early July. "We were already pregnant," she said.

Fritz Basamanowicz was born last month, on March 6. The pregnancy was a worry-filled experience because expectant mothers run a greater risk of severe illness from the virus.

"I'm very thankful that we made it through," Katie said.

New York, the deadly epicenter of the U.S. outbreak in the spring of 2020, was not part of the analysis. Its Health Department said the figures were not available.

A majority of the babies born in 2020 were, of course, conceived in 2019, before the virus took hold in the U.S., so the numbers partly reflect the pre-existing downward trend.

But births in December 2020 declined in 23 of the 25 states from the same month a year earlier, the exceptions being Alaska and Wyoming. They dropped about 11% in Massachusetts and Virginia; 10% in California; and 7% in Florida, Illinois, Indiana and Nevada.

Declines were even more dramatic in January 2021 in many of the 25 states.

Still, Emily Newell, 31, who lives in Portland, Maine, with her husband, Ben Keller, said she witnessed the opposite phenomenon during the outbreak: "We know so many people who decided to have kids."

The couple married in January 2020 and were eventually forced to work from home. They saw a certain appeal in going through a pregnancy with both partners at home, said Newell, a 31-year-old assistant professor of sports management at the University of Southern Maine.

"It gives us a little more flexibility in terms of care" for the baby, she said.

Their son, Manuel, was born two months ago.

Birth Rate Decline 2021 U.S.
When most of the U.S. went into lockdown in 2020, some speculated that confining couples to their homes with little to entertain themselves would lead to a lot of baby-making. But statistics suggest the opposite happened. In this April 13, 2020, file photo, a couple walks alone in a Kansas City, Missouri, park at sunset as stay-at-home orders continued in much of the country in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus. AP Photo/Charlie Riedel