The baby boom that never was: France sees sharp decline in ‘lockdown babies’

A father holds his newborn son who was born during the Covid-19 pandemic, on November 17, 2020, in Paris France.
A father holds his newborn son who was born during the Covid-19 pandemic, on November 17, 2020, in Paris France. © AFP - Martin Bureau

When France went into its first Covid-19 lockdown last March, jokes about an imminent explosion of “lockdown babies” inundated social media. But nine months later, fresh statistics show that instead of a baby boom, France seems to be experiencing an unusually vast baby drought.

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“Lockdown babies” (bébés du confinement) and “the Covid generation” (génération Covid) headlined many a joke when the French were confined to their homes for two whole months back in March, and for another four weeks in the month of November. The time many French couples would finally be able to spend together by being restricted to their homes seemed to offer up endless opportunities to reproduce. The fact that the sale of pregnancy tests shot up by 37 percent just four weeks into the first lockdown, and contraception sales plunged 26 percent in the same period, appeared to – at least in part – support that theory. 

On Tuesday, some nine months later, the first nationwide results were made public. But instead of confirming a baby boom, the numbers gathered by national statistics institute Insee revealed a 2 percent decline in France's birthrate. Even though some of it could be attributed to a natural decline of our times, in part because women wait longer to have babies and therefore may not be as fertile, Insee underscored that the decrease in the latest statistics was indeed "steep".

Experts say there are many reasons for the decline in newborns and that many of them had actually forecast such a drought.

Eva Beaujouan, a researcher in fertility and family trends studies at the University of Vienna, said that historically, economic and health crises – such as the Great Depression in the 1930s and the influenza pandemic in the late 1970s – have led to temporary reductions in birth rates.

“The way people actually experience a lockdown and a pandemic is very different from how they may have projected it. It was much more stressful [than expected] and resulted in some very big changes for people, in terms of work and unemployment. Instead of having babies, this may push them to postpone such projects because of the uncertainty and new circumstances.” 

‘Not enough time to kiss’

Her argument is backed up by a recent study published by Demographic Research on the impact of Covid-19 on fertility plans in Italy, Germany, France, Spain and the United Kingdom – countries placed under lockdown in periods during 2020, and where a massive number of respondents confirmed they had either postponed or fully abandoned their baby plans due to the pandemic. In France, 50.7 percent of people said they had postponed their plans to have a child, and 17.3 percent that they had abandoned them altogether.

Beaujouan told FRANCE 24 that aside from the economic fears and the general uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the preventative lockdown measures in themselves are also thought to have played a major role in the sudden drop in newborns.

“If you were single, the restrictions meant that it was harder for you to meet a partner because you were stuck at home all the time.”

But it is also thought to have affected those who were actually locked down with their partners – and not just because the stress of a pandemic can affect both fertility cycles and people’s libido.

“At the end of the day, couples who were under lockdown together, and who were perhaps home with the children they already have, may have found themselves with so much to do that they didn’t even have enough time to kiss each other,” Beaujouan laughed.

On a more serious note, she added that some people were obliged to postpone having children because fertility clinics and other medically-assisted fertility facilities were shut down during France's first lockdown.

However, Beaujouan added that although severe crises usually reduce the birthrate, these babymaking breaks are generally temporary and are often followed by an encouraging “pick up” in numbers.

“This is when life gets back to normal, and people have a job again. In France, it’s possible we will see a catch-up in three years or something, and we might see an excess in births.”

 

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