There is a “huge worry” Australia’s birthrate could fall even further because of the coronavirus pandemic.
While there were predictions the country could see a spike in babies nine months after lockdown measures were enacted in states, experts now fear the opposite.
They say the stress of the pandemic and fear of giving birth as it continues has been putting women off getting pregnant, with one GP saying she saw a women who was even considering a termination.
Melbourne doctor Magdalena Simonis said the woman had pre-existing mental health issues.
Dr Simonis, a senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne, told news.com.au during the national lockdown more women were opting to have home birth and many GPs reported patients putting IVF on hold.
“Now there are such wide variations in COVID-19 infection rates across Australia which I believe will impact conception rates,” she said.
“We might see a relative reduction in Victoria where there are more cases and increasing social stressors.
“Daily overall, we receive bad news here as COVID-19 is now in the community and not yet controlled. It’s not a good formula to build growth and optimism and babies are conceived in times of prosperity.”
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It follows similar predictions in the US with one report predicting there could be as many as 500,000 fewer babies born there.
Coupled with the death toll from the virus, it could lead to a stagnating economy.
Australian experts fear the same trends here.
“It’s called a demographic bomb,” Dr Alex Polyakov, obstetrics and gynaecology senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne, said.
“It’s well-known in times of stress, the birthrate goes down.”
Dr Polyakov said Australia’s birthrate had been falling since the 1960s.
He said the we needed a 2.1 replacement ratio – the number of children to replace those dying – and the last time we were at that level was 1975.
Last year it was 1.76 and with population growth driven by immigration, which has been put on hold, Dr Polyakov said that could mean bad things for Australia’s numbers.
“My feeling is there will be a decline rather than an increase,” he said.
“I think even though people assume if you’re isolating and with your partner you will get more sex and are then more likely to conceive, that’s probably a misconception.
“People are stressed, not just from COVID but financially. There’s uncertainty about the future. I think this year we will see a significant drop in the number of women getting pregnant and having children for all those reasons.”
Liz Allen, demographer at Australian National University, said Australia’s birthrate of 1.74 births per woman was already in decline, down from 2.02 in 2008 and we could expect COVID-19 to exacerbate this trend.
“This is a huge worry,” she wrote for The Conversation.
“Because, if we fall to or below a birthrate of 1.5, this is well below replacement level and places the future tax base at risk.
“Simply put, we won’t have enough people to work and pay taxes and fund all the roads, hospitals and welfare initiatives we need to function as a country. This is a demographic disaster, leading to declining socio-economic wellbeing.”