Pandemic leads to ‘baby bust’ as births decline in most countries

Economic growth


A year ago, many were suggesting the lockdowns might produce a “baby boom” as couples spent more time together. But early data suggests the world is instead seeing a “baby bust”. As Nikkei Asia reports:

“Births (in December/January) have fallen between 10% and 20% in such countries as Japan, France and Spain — and even more in some areas – exacerbating a widespread downward trend in fertility. This has sparked concern about whether these economies will be able to grow and maintain their social safety nets should the declines continue.”

And as the Wall Street Journal reports, working mothers have been particularly impacted by the pandemic, as they have often taken on the majority of home schooling responsibilities:

“After a brutal year of layoffs, parenting struggles, and juggling jobs and schooling under one roof, many working mothers are trying to regain their career momentum—and hitting new obstacles.”

The pandemic is acting as a catalyst, accelerating existing paradigm shifts:

  • Global fertility rates were around 5 babies per woman in the 1950s/60s, but have since halved to 2.45
  • As a result, total births have plateaued at 140m, even though the global population has risen from 2.5bn in 1950 to 7.8bn today

The trend is most advanced in the world’s major economies, where fertility rates now average just 1.64. It is nearly 50 years since they were last above the 2.1 replacement level in 1973.

Most major economies today now have ageing populations. And the Perennials 55+ generation are essentially a replacement economy, as they already own most of what they need.

The pandemic-related jobs crisis amongst young people is a key factor in the ‘baby bust’, as the IMF chart confirms:

  • One in six young people aged between 18 – 29 had either lost their jobs or had work hours reduced to zero
  • Even those who managed to keep their jobs saw their working hours fall – and 40% earned lower wages

As the New York Times reports, young women are being particularly impacted due to their roles as care-givers:

“Many thousands, possibly even millions, are postponing their education, which can delay their entry into the work force.”

There is, of course, a 9 month gap between conception and birth, so we can already be fairly sure that 2021 will see a further fall in births. And nothing much seems likely to change in 2022, given the problems facing young women and working mothers.

North East Asia is a good role model for the outlook, as it has the oldest populations in the world.

  • Japanese births are expected to fall to 800k this year, versus the 2.7m peak in 1949.  And Japan’s total population is now expected to fall below 100m by 2049 (versus its 128m peak in 2010), as its BabyBoom came 10 years earlier than the West’s
  • China is seeing even more adverse impacts.  As the chart shows, preliminary data suggests its births fell 15% last year versus 2019.  And, of course, 2021 births will likely be lower again, even though its lockdowns ended earlier than elsewhere.

Demographics are destiny. Companies and investors who focus on the implications of today’s ‘baby bust’ for their business will be the Winners, as today’s New Normal world develops.


Americans hunker down on spending as the pandemic's impact continues


US stock markets have been hitting new records recently, as investors swoon over...

Learn more

Biden's Earth Day Summit puts plastics recycling on the fast track


Plastics has long been the ‘odd one out’ in terms of recycling. Stee...

Learn more
More posts
Smallpox was the first vaccination to change the world – now we have a new opportunity to improve our lives

Chart 1: Increased life expectancy led to a dramatic increase in GDP/capita The pandemic has reminde...

COP 26 set to accelerate development of the 15-minute city

One of the good things to happen in the pandemic over the past year is that ‘cooking has becom...

China’s dual circulation policy aims to reduce debt reliance

Every now and then, people wake up to the fact that debt is only good news when it adds to growth. O...

UK set to take hard line on EU trade under David Frost

The Brexit debate has always been about politics, not economics.  So it was no surprise that Decemb...

EU focuses on a sustainable and circular plastics system

“The challenges posed by plastics are to a large extent due to the fact that our production and co...

Businesses face “biggest imposition of red tape in 50 years” as Brexit begins

Most companies had closed when the new EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) was finally annou...

Your A to Z Guide to the reality of Brexit after 31 December

(Picture credit Shutterstock) A.  Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty set out the rules for leaving ...

Chemistry & the Economy webinar on Thursday

Please join me for the next ACS Chemicals & Economy webinar on Thursday, at 2pm Eastern Standard...


Market Intelligence

ICIS provides market intelligence that help businesses in the energy, petrochemical and fertilizer industries.

Learn more


Across the globe, ICIS consultants provide detailed analysis and forecasting for the petrochemical, energy and fertilizer markets.

Learn more

Specialist Services

Find out more about how our specialist consulting services, events, conferences and training courses can help your teams.

Learn more

ICIS Insight

From our news service to our thought-leadership content, ICIS experts bring you the latest news and insight, when you need it.

Learn more