Figure 2 translates these childbearing age profiles into total number of children ever born by a certain age. The figure clearly shows that successively younger cohorts of women are having fewer children by specific ages. For instance, by age 24, the 1995 birth cohort of women had 38 percent fewer children than the 1975 and 1980 birth cohorts had at that age (0.5 compared to 0.8). This younger cohort would need to have 21 percent more children at each age from 25 through 44 to “catch up” to the earlier cohorts in terms of total lifetime childbearing. As another example, the 1990 birth cohort has had 21 percent fewer births through age 29 compared to the 1975 and 1980 cohorts; they would need to have 38 percent more births in their remaining childbearing years to catch up in terms of lifetime fertility.
From today’s vantage point, it looks more likely that unemployment will have risen by around 5.5 percentage points in the year following the start of the pandemic (April 2020 through March 2021) from 3.5 percent to roughly nine percent. This estimate is based on observed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for April through November and assumes little change in the next few months. Using this revised expected change in unemployment, we would predict a 5.5 percent reduction in births from the unemployment effect alone. Applying that to the number of births in 2019 (3.75 million) suggests 206,000 fewer births in 2021.
Our original forecast also incorporated an additional reduction in births coming from the anxiety and social conditions associated with the public health crisis. We incorporated this into our forecast by examining the experience of the 1918 Spanish Flu. Back then, every spike in the death rate attributable to the flu was associated with a dramatic reduction in births nine months later. We relied on that evidence to increase our forecast based solely on labor market conditions by one to three additional percent, or another 38,000 to 114,000 fewer births.