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Will the COVID-19 pandemic result in a baby boom? Experts weigh in

We're all on top of each other right now, but not like that.
/ Source: TODAY

With most of America under extended stay-at-home orders due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, the inevitable jokes about a possible baby boom started early.

But experts say the truth is that the COVID-19 pandemic will not result in a rise in the American birthrate nine months from now. In fact, they predict the exact opposite, and possibly for years to come.

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There are several reasons this pandemic will not create a baby "blip" or a baby boom. Basically, University of Wisconsin professor Christine B. Whelan told TODAY Parents, "People are freaking out."

"Couples are in bed at night on their phones, scrolling through the CNN or New York Times newsfeeds checking various infection and death totals," she said. "That's not conducive to 'sexytime.'"

This is especially true for parents at home with existing children. Research shows that particularly for mothers, spending lots of time at home with young children leaves them feeling less amorous, not more. "They're exhausted," Whelan said.

"We're not sleeping well. We're having anxiety dreams. A lot of people are unemployed. All this existential angst does not add up," Whelan said, to baby-making.

Empty baby bassinets in a hospital
"People are freaking out," said sociologist Christine B. Whelan. Panic, it turns out, is not an aphrodisiac.Getty Images

Whelan noted that 45% of births result from unmarried couples; a large chunk of those births still come from cohabitating couples hunkered down together just as they would be if they were married. But the percentage of those births that might come from "unplanned" pregnancies are less likely to happen, partly due to social distancing guidelines, but also as a result of good old evolution.

"We have really interesting data on this," Whelan said. "In times of infection, we are really programmed not to go out and have sex with a stranger. Our bodies actually tell us not to go do that."

University of Maryland economics professor and Brookings senior fellow Melissa Kearney told TODAY Parents that along with these factors, economics will play a large role in the lack of a baby boom as a result of the pandemic.

The key factor to birthrate, she said, is that it is "pro-cyclical": When unemployment is low and wages are high, the number of babies born will go up. People will wait to add to their families until their economic situation is better, research shows.

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So while the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a shutdown that has forced people to spend a lot of time confined together, it has also caused "really large economic shock" and left Americans with "widespread economic insecurity," Kearney explained. "This will lead to a decline in births," she said, possibly for years to come.

Economic recovery will be a "long slog," Kearney said. "There will be no quick rebound in births. Births that don't happen now because of this situation will not happen later."

So while we might all be on top of each other right now, Whelan said with a laugh, we're not on top of each other like that. If you are not feeling it, know that you are not alone.