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There is no end to the speculation about how the coronavirus will impact marriages.
Some say that home quarantine will result in more divorces.
Others say couples therapy will be in high demand…and yes, some say we will see the advent of the Coronial Generation. Perhaps it’s just an excuse to have some fun.
Tweets competed to name this imagined coronavirus baby boom:
Baby Zoomers…Coronials…and in due time…Quaran-teens.
While much of this speculation may seem silly, I became curious about how the global pandemic might impact birth rates, so I decided to take a look at some research to see what I could learn. Will there be a Coronavirus baby boom…or a baby bust?
Couples therapists do have a sense of how most couples behave when they spend an unusual amount of time in close quarters.
At Couples Therapy Inc., we usually expect a spike in phone calls after major holidays in November and December. We also get a deluge of calls asking about science-based couples therapy during, and especially after, summer vacations.
But how will strong, loving couples hold up during a home quarantine? Will they also get on each other’s nerves? Or will they cling to each other as never before and make babies?
Viktor Sander is an expert on interpersonal communication and relationships. He has also conducted research on how humans socially interact and form friendships.
He manages Socialpro’s scientific review board. This review board consists of psychologists and doctors who fact-check content on SocialPro to make sure that it reflects the consensus of the latest social science research.
Viktor has an interesting take on how the coronavirus pandemic will shape intimate relationships. What I like about Viktor is that he is a scientist who looks at the data. He sees COVID-19 as an accelerant to whatever interpersonal trajectory was already underway.
…increased time together isn’t automatically good or bad for a relationship. What it does is accelerate the trajectory the relationship is already on…In practice, a relationship that would have ended in a year might end in a month instead. A relationship that would have resulted in babies in a year might result in babies in a month instead.” Viktor Sander.
We do have some understanding of how people behave during times of global uncertainty. For example, the WWII “Baby Boom” generation arrived after the stress and threat of World War II had wound down. Because increased levels of stress tend to lower libido, Viktor suspects that if a Coronial Generation baby boom does occur, it will happen well after the global pandemic relaxes its grip on the world.
There’s other research that’s interesting too.
And it strongly suggests that we are far more likely to see a baby bust.
For example, research conducted by John Hopkins University and the University of Texas indicated that relatively minor storm-related power outages had a slight upward impact on the birth rate.
However, life-threatening weather events had a decidedly negative impact, effectively reducing the birth rate.
June Gupta, the director of medical standards at Planned Parenthood was a bit more even-handed:
“Only time will tell if a baby boomlet will be a potential outcome of the COVID-19 response…These (social distancing) recommendations mean people are spending a lot of time together and may have more time than usual to have sex. This could result in more pregnancies if, hypothetically speaking, people are unable to access family planning resources like birth control, emergency contraception, condoms or abortion.”
Lyman Stone is an Adjunct Fellow at AEI, a Research Fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, and a former International Economist at the US Department of Agriculture. He’s also a Coronial Generation skeptic. In an article published in March by the Institute for Family Studies, he said:
“Illness, quarantine and death can all have a major impact on conception, pregnancy, and birth, and disease all have very predictable effects on reducing births nine months later.” Lyman Stone.
In other words, uncertain times make for unhealthy babies.
“Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully―
During this unprecedented period of home confinement, couples are going to have to improve their resilience and conflict management skills. Not because they necessarily want to…but because they have to.
And these couples will have a lot to discuss in online marriage counseling; How can we manage conflict better? How can we repair hurt feelings with each other more quickly? How can we stop getting on each other’s nerves? Will our lives ever return to normal?
We live is acutely uncertain times…and there is every indication that this uncertainty will continue.
It’s far more likely that fertile couples will take extra precautions against unintended pregnancy. There is simply too much anxiety about how life will unfold in the near future. I imagine, that even years afterward, many couples will be processing their experience with the infamous 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.
COVID is very likely to reduce births in the near term, and perhaps by a quite considerable amount. But after the epidemic has passed, fertility in countries other than China is likely to rebound, especially if death tolls have been significant or if governments take action to replace lost wages, like expanding paid sick leave or extending unemployment insurance benefits. But thanks to China’s uniquely anti-natalist policy stance, no large fertility rebound is expected there. Lyman Stone.
As of this writing, we have no felt sense when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, or what our lives will look like in the unforeseeable future. We are, quite likely, going to see a coronavirus baby bust. The research is clear; during times of dangerous unprecedented uncertainty…the birthrate tends to go down.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.
We schedule three double sessions with you in total. You complete an extensive online relationship questionnaire. In that final meeting, we spend almost two hours with you explaining, from a science perspective what's working in your relationship, what's not, and how to fix it.
It's all done online, either week-by-week or over a weekend.