Even before COVID there were concerns about the trajectory of births in the US. It seemed people were having fewer and fewer children, something the various issues surrounding COVID did not deter, at least in terms of the speculation. It is only recently that we acquired data allowing us to see if COVID is changing individual behavior.
A little side note here. Many of the speeches and presentations I give are to non-technical audiences and when talking about births you often talk about the activity leading to the birth. You know….sex. This does not always go over well with the non-tech audience so I use the term “family formation activity”. The interesting thing is that this can only refer to, you know, sex, but the audience laughs at this term while they shift in their seat uncomfortably if I mention sex. Anyway, back to the story.
The average gestation period of 9 months means that most of the 2020 births data was essentially pre-COVID for us. COVID lockdowns and changes started in mid-March, so perhaps the December 2020 data might show us something, but probably not. So it is the 2021 data that can show us how behavior started to change. The 2021 data is still provisional (not final) per the ND Department of Vital Statistics website. I took the data back to 2018 just to establish maybe the basics of a trend and I added a smoothed line to the graph as well.
Interestingly there was a large decline in births in 2019 with a flattened portion starting in 2020 into 2021. I would not make too much of the smoothed uptick at the end of the graph yet. The data are not final and there are two more months to include that could change the direction. You can see the value of the smoothed line with the significant monthly fluctuations. I decided to break this out another way to see if there are persistent seasonal patterns to births in ND.
The general appearance is that births are higher in the middle of the year and lower at the beginning and end, but there is some variation. The lower values for 2020 and 2021 are clear in this as well with their lines almost completely below the 2018 and 2019 lines.
Census 2020 showed North Dakota grew impressively, but the even with that growth it is a cause of concern to see births declining. In ND there was a decline heading into COVID and then no recovery (yet) after the onset of the pandemic.
Despite the population growth North Dakota remains one of the smaller population states in the Union. As a result it is important to understand the reasons for the decline as well as any factors that might be able to reverse it, even in the midst of the COVID crisis.