Remote Work May Have Led to a Mini Baby Boom, Study Says
For the first time in seven years, America’s birth rate is trending upwards. After 2020’s historic low (the lowest birth rate in 36 years), the rebound marks a mini baby boom or a small unexpected upward trend in births. While there are many theories around what may have contributed to the increase in births, a group of economists points to a new underlying cause—remote work.
In a new paper, economists from the National Bureau of Economic Research are quick to acknowledge a surprising realization—that despite their prediction that birthrates would crash during and after the pandemic—they largely remained the same or increased.
Researchers point to the observed 2020 decline as a misrepresentation of data that didn’t consider foreign-born mothers who were largely stopped from entering the country. In 2020-2021, there were 91,000 fewer births to foreign-born women contributing to the decline even though there was a net increase in births for US-born mothers of around 46,000 children.
So what caused the 2021 increase in births? Economists point primarily to a quickly rebounding economy and remote work. The study shows that the biggest increase in births was among first-time mothers and college-educated women who had previously forgone children in favor of demanding careers. When much of this group transitioned to work from home, it gave parents more time and flexibility to deal with the demands that pregnancy and a new baby bring.
“This episode points to the large time costs of childbearing as an additional important driver of falling fertility rates and suggests that measures to alleviate these costs, such as improving child care and allowing parents more flexibility to work from home, might be associated with higher future fertility,” the authors of the paper wrote in their closing remarks.
But instead of moving toward better childcare and flexible work schedules, many companies are rolling back pandemic work-from-home policies and cutting paid maternity leave. The future fertility rate is likely to suffer from this change, and those who chose to have children over the past two years will also struggle. Expensive or non-existent childcare services have many remote-working moms straddling a difficult return to the office—with many having to leave the workforce altogether.
If companies and the government don’t work together to break down these barriers for working mothers, it’s not only families who will suffer but the economy as a whole. According to the Center for American Progress, if moms don’t come back into the workforce, it could cost the US $64.5 billion.