By Tim Bean
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy pummeled the Caribbean, the East Coast, and Canada with winds vicious enough to shred houses like cardboard. The financial cost of the hurricane totaled over $68 billion; so catastrophic, in fact, that the World Meteorological Organization retired the name “Sandy” for future use. There will never be another. The hurricane created damage, deaths, and debt. It also created something both unexpected and positive, and it’s something we need to be prepared for, only on a worldwide scale: babies.
Lots of babies.
In 2013, nine months after residents of New York City and New Jersey emerged from their homes, several hospitals reported 20-35% spikes in birth rates, a phenomena referred to as the post-Sandy baby boom. Critics called it a coincidence. Proponents called it obvious: when forced to shelter at home for days or even weeks, consenting adults (who are likely well-fed and well-rested) can only binge watch so many seasons of Game of Thrones.
At this very moment, hundreds of millions (maybe billions) of individuals across our entire planet are following stay-at-home orders, from snowy European mountains to the blue waters of San Diego. Some have quarantined for only a few days, some are going into their second month. There’s no definite end in sight. It’s been more than a century since humans have dealt with a pandemic of these proportions, making COVID-19 virtually unprecedented. The best estimate models can offer is that an effective quarantine will need to last at least a few more weeks, if not longer.
Will our planet see a Quarantine baby boom, or is that just a coincidence?
In 2008, an international collection of economic and labor studies researchers published “The Fertility Effect of Catastrophe: U.S. Hurricane Births“. Examining population data from 1996 to 2002, they discovered a definite correlation between natural disasters and birth rates, but it wasn’t quite what they expected.
To summarize the study with broad strokes, the areas that experienced a tropical storm or hurricane watch, but suffered no damage, had the highest birth rate increase. As the region’s hurricane damage increased, the birth rates decreased. Damage goes up, births go down—an inverse relationship. Regions with the most catastrophic damage had a slight decrease in birth rates, but the deviation was only marginal. The study concluded that confined people in no immediate or anticipated danger tend to procreate.
What can we expect starting in late October or early November 2020?
Like anything associated with the coronavirus, there’s only educated guesses and vague models, not clear answers. In this case, common sense indicates this baby boom’s going to happen.
Start with billions of quarantined but healthy people, sprinkle in plenty of food and rest, add a dash of uninterrupted utility service, and garnish with no immediate danger, you get the Quarantine Baby Boom. And it’s not really a question of “Is it going to happen?” because, let’s be honest, it’s already happening.