Will There Really Be a Coronavirus Baby Boom? Here’s What the Science Says
March 18, 2020 by Justin Lehmiller
In the last few weeks, I’ve seen a ton of headlines predicting a massive baby boom stemming from the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic—and some people are making very bold claims. Case in point: “It’s probably going to be the biggest baby boom we’ve seen,” Dr. Kevin Kathrotia recently told Fox Business.
But will the coronavirus baby boom really come to pass? Let’s take a look at what the research says.
The basis for a lot of these claims comes from studies finding that baby booms are linked to various catastrophes and natural disasters. For example, some research has found a statistical link between hurricane advisories and birth rates in coastal areas . This is probably why Dr. Kathrotia also told Fox Business that “anytime there’s the threat of a hurricane, there’s a little baby boom.”
However, it’s not quite as simple as that. What the research actually shows is that low-level advisories (like a tropical storm watch) are linked to increased birth rates, whereas severe advisories (like a hurricane warning) are actually linked to decreased birth rates. In other words, when natural disasters become more severe, the odds of a baby boom actually seem to go down.
Of course, it’s difficult (if not impossible) to extrapolate from hurricane research to a pandemic like the one we’re experiencing now. Whereas hurricanes are very time-limited events localized in specific areas where people have opportunities to escape, the coronavirus is a worldwide issue, we don’t know how long we’re going to be grappling with the effects of it, and there’s no escape from it. In other words, these situations aren’t very comparable, so I’d be hesitant to generalize from one to the other.
In addition to natural disaster research, there is also some work finding a link between terrorist acts and baby booms, including an increase in births in Oklahoma County in the period after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing . Again, though, it’s hard to draw parallels between that and the coronavirus crisis because these are such drastically different situations. Also, not all terrorist events have been linked to baby booms, which raises questions about this hypothesis.
That said, theoretically, there are certainly some good reasons to predict that the coronavirus pandemic will increase rates of sexual activity. For example, let’s think about this through the lens of Terror Management Theory. The basic idea behind this theory, as I describe in my book The Psychology of Human Sexuality, is that “when we are reminded of our own mortality, we subconsciously alter our attitudes and behaviors in order to help us cope with the ‘terrifying’ prospect of our eventual death.”
Some research has found that when we are faced with the prospect of our own mortality, this prompts sexual desire and behavior as a coping mechanism . Put another way, sex is one way that some people seek to reduce and relieve anxiety about existential crises.
So to the extent that the coronavirus is making our mortality more salient, it’s not unreasonable to think that it just might prompt more sexual behavior, which could have implications for the birth rate down the line.
Also, taking a look at the broader picture, many people are in lockdown mode right now. Businesses are closed and there’s no choice but to stay home. To the extent that work-related pressures are reduced and people have more leisure time, that also creates more potential opportunities for physical intimacy, assuming you have a live-in spouse or partner, of course.
At the same time, however, the coronavirus appears poised to throw the economy into recession and that’s going to create a lot of economic uncertainty. If people are preoccupied with how they’re going to pay their bills and are worrying about whether their jobs are going to be there when all of this is said and done, that would create strong pressures against childbearing and promote more consistent contraceptive use. Put another way, if people are focused more on basic survival right now, bringing new kids into the picture might be seen as highly risky.
Similarly, something else that makes this situation unique is that so many schools across the country are closed, which means parents who are tele-working also suddenly have to care for their kids 24/7. This situation is one that could very well inhibit physical intimacy, and I’ve heard many parents on Twitter who have already said something to that effect. They describe the current situation as a strong deterrent to sex and, especially, to having more children.
In addition, it’s worth mentioning that access to highly-effective, reversible contraceptives (not just birth control pills, but also IUDs and implants) is greater today than ever before. This allows people to sexually engage with a very low risk of unintended pregnancy. Also, condoms can now be shipped discreetly to your door, even in the midst of this pandemic (thanks, Amazon!), which removes barriers caused by embarrassment about buying them. Altogether, this increased access to contraceptives will play a role in limiting potential baby booms linked to catastrophes and natural disasters.
Lastly, I should also mention that the current lockdown situation will be a deterrent to dating and casual sex, which will place yet another limit on possibilities for conception. So even if there’s an increase in sexual activity and conception among partnered folks, a decline in casual sex would likely provide a partial counterweight to that.
In short, there are a lot of competing forces at work here, so it’s difficult to say with any degree of certainty what’s going to happen. Given the severity, widespread impact, and uncertainty created by the COVID-19 coronavirus, I wouldn’t say it’s a foregone conclusion that there will be a baby boom in the next nine months, let alone the “biggest boom we’ve seen.”
In fact, there’s also the possibility that we could even see a delayed coronavirus baby boom. If I had to place my money on something, that’s where it would be. In other words, rather than conceptions peaking now, perhaps we’ll see them rise once the virus is under control, the economy is in recovery, and the outlook (for having children and for life in general) is more optimistic.
Want to learn more about Sex and Psychology ? Click here for previous articles or follow the blog on Facebook (facebook.com/psychologyofsex), Twitter (@JustinLehmiller), or Reddit (reddit.com/r/psychologyofsex) to receive updates. You can also follow Dr. Lehmiller on YouTube and Instagram.
 Evans, R. W., Hu, Y., & Zhao, Z. (2010). The fertility effect of catastrophe: US hurricane births. Journal of Population Economics, 23(1), 1-36.
 Rodgers, J. L., John, C. A. S., & Coleman, R. (2005). Did fertility go up after the Oklahoma City bombing? An analysis of births in metropolitan counties in Oklahoma, 1990–1999. Demography, 42(4), 675-692.
 Goldenberg, J.L., McCoy, S.K., Pyszczynski, T., Greenberg, J., & Solomon, S. (2000). The body as a source of self-esteem: The effect of mortality salience on identification with one’s body, interest in sex, and appearance monitoring. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 118–130.
Image Source: Shutterstock/Stokkete
Dr. Justin LehmillerFounder & Owner of Sex and Psychology
Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.Read full bio >