N.H. birth numbers bounce back from pandemic low

Monitor staff
Published: 4/24/2022 9:58:39 PM
Modified: 4/24/2022 9:57:13 PM

New Hampshire’s number of new births seems to have rebounded from a slump in early 2021, staving off fears of a pandemic-related “baby bust.” 

In fact, according to CDC data, New Hampshire saw more births in the first nine months of 2021 than in 2020, a statistic that sets the state apart from the rest of the country. Kenneth Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire, said there could be a number of explanations for the elevated number of births. Women could have started planning for children after they thought the worst of the pandemic was over. Johnson said decisions were likely made based on how the pandemic impacted each person individually.

“I talked to some women who would say, Well, my job went virtual but I still have my job and so COVID really didn't financially affect us very much,” Johnson said. “It sort of varies from person to person.”

When the pandemic began and couples siloed themselves in their homes, demographers hypothesized that the United States might be in store for a baby boom, brought on by boredom.

However, after the first months of birth rate data trickled in, another theory began to surface — a “baby bust” could be taking hold instead.

Declining birth rates are typical during periods of economic turmoil, Johnson said. After the Great Recession, the birth rate in New Hampshire — the number of babies born per 1,000 women of childbearing age — dropped 11%. Johnson said it’s hard to compare these recessions, which, while devastating, were largely confined to the economic sector as opposed to a global pandemic that has transformed nearly every aspect of life.

“What’s going to happen when you have both economic problems and on top of that you’ve got a pandemic?” he said. “Nobody knows for sure.”

More than two years into the pandemic, demographers have some clarity.

In the first few months of 2021 — approximately 9 months after the pandemic started — New Hampshire saw a significant decline in births, around 7%. But since then, the number of births has been roughly equivalent to pre-pandemic levels, he said. This is somewhat good news, Johnson said.

The effects of declined birth rates can ripple through society.

Johnson said the state would likely first see the consequences in schools — small school districts with dwindling student bodies would have to merge with other districts. As the baby bust generation approached college age, New Hampshire state colleges would see fewer applicants. As they entered the workforce, these employees would be tasked with supporting the much larger aging generation above them.

Still, birth rates are still much lower than they would need to be to avoid those consequences.

For the last several years, the number of deaths has outpaced the number of new births in New Hampshire, one of only four states where that’s the case. If not for migration to the Granite State, Johnson said the population would almost certainly be shrinking.

He said it’s hard to tell whether another surge in COVID-19 cases could cause another slump. He said women might have become so used to the pandemic that it won’t impact their childbearing decisions.

Johnson said before the pandemic, birth rates were already low across the United States. Birth rates have declined every year since the recession started in 2008, which may mean that the birth rate bottomed out long before the pandemic started.

“It's hard to imagine how much lower they could have gone,” he said.

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