Nationally, and in North Carolina, there was evidence of a Covid-19 “baby bust”, meaning the number of births decreased after the pandemic started in March 2020. We reached out to the State Center for Health Statistics (SCHS) for updated data. What does this new data tell us?
First, the Covid-19 baby bust was real, but not as large as we initially reported. Last year, we were working with provisional vital statistics counts. In the months that followed publication, SCHS received its final set of data on NC residents who had births outside of North Carolina. As a result of these additions, the total births to North Carolina residents in 2020 increased to 116,755 from 115,103. This was still a decline in births—1,970 fewer babies than in 2019 which is a decline of 1.7 percent—but the magnitude was not as large as the initial provisional data suggested.
Second, we looked at the provisional monthly data for 2021 (through October) to see if there are any emerging trends. During the first few months of the year, there were fewer births than prior years: the 1st quarter of 2021 had 4.4 percent fewer births than the same quarter of 2019, with the largest year-to-year difference occurring in January (-9.2%). After this, however, the number of births were closer to prior years; these numbers may only increase as SCHS receives full information about all births to North Carolina residents.
These data suggest that, for North Carolina overall, the impacts of Covid-19 on the numbers of births could be a short-term phenomenon, unlike the longer-term impacts seen in the Great Recession. We see national birth trends following similar patterns; a December 2021 report by Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine of the Brookings Institute goes into greater depth about possible reasons why – including the government assistance provided to families in the summer of 2020.
We also looked at data at the county level to see if there were any clear patterns that emerged. (There weren’t, but we did see something interesting when we look at the state’s two largest counties, which show different patterns. Mecklenburg had 257 or 1.8 percent more births in 2020 than in 2019, whereas Wake had 137 or 1.1 percent fewer births in 2020 than in 2019.) Sixty counties had fewer births in 2020 than in 2019; three had the same number of births; and thirty-seven had more births in 2020 than in 2019. The table below shows total births and changes in births for the state’s 100 counties.
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