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COVID-19 and the future of US fertility: what can we learn from Google?


  • Joshua Wilde

    (Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany)

  • Wei Chen

    (Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany)

  • Sophie Lohmann

    (Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany)


We use data from Google Trends to predict the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on future births in the United States. First, we show that periods of above-normal search volume for Google keywords relating to conception and pregnancy in US states are associated with higher numbers of births in the following months. Excess searches for unemployment keywords have the opposite effect. Second, by employing simple statistical learning techniques, we demonstrate that including information on keyword search volumes in prediction models significantly improves forecast accuracy over a number of cross-validation criteria. Third, we use data on Google searches during the COVID-19 pandemic to predict changes in aggregate fertility rates in the United States at the state level through February 2021. Our analysis suggests that between November 2020 and February 2021, monthly US births will drop sharply by approximately 15%. For context, this would be a 50% larger decline than that following the Great Recession of 2008-2009, and similar in magnitude to the declines following the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1919 and the Great Depression. Finally, we find heterogeneous effects of the COVID-19 pandemic across different types of mothers. Women with less than a college education, as well as Black or African American women, are predicted to have larger declines in fertility due to COVID-19. This finding is consistent with elevated caseloads of COVID-19 in low-income and minority neighborhoods, as well as with evidence suggesting larger economic impacts of the crisis among such households.

Suggested Citation

  • Joshua Wilde & Wei Chen & Sophie Lohmann, 2020. "COVID-19 and the future of US fertility: what can we learn from Google?," MPIDR Working Papers WP-2020-034, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:dem:wpaper:wp-2020-034
    DOI: 10.4054/MPIDR-WP-2020-034

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Quamrul H. Ashraf & David N. Weil & Joshua Wilde, 2013. "The Effect of Fertility Reduction on Economic Growth," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 39(1), pages 97-130, March.
    2. Nicole Maestas & Kathleen J. Mullen & David Powell, 2016. "The Effect of Population Aging on Economic Growth, the Labor Force and Productivity," Working Papers WR-1063-1, RAND Corporation.
    3. Quamrul H. Ashraf & David N. Weil & Joshua Wilde, 2011. "The Effect of Fertility Reduction on Economic Growth," Department of Economics Working Papers 2013-11, Department of Economics, Williams College, revised Feb 2013.
    4. Wilde, Joshua & Apouey, Bénédicte H. & Jung, Toni, 2017. "The effect of ambient temperature shocks during conception and early pregnancy on later life outcomes," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 97(C), pages 87-107.
    5. Nicole Maestas & Kathleen J. Mullen & David Powell, 2016. "The Effect of Population Aging on Economic Growth, the Labor Force and Productivity," NBER Working Papers 22452, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Siliverstovs, Boriss & Wochner, Daniel S., 2018. "Google Trends and reality: Do the proportions match?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 145(C), pages 1-23.
    7. Tomáš Sobotka & Vegard Skirbekk & Dimiter Philipov, 2011. "Economic Recession and Fertility in the Developed World," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 37(2), pages 267-306, June.
    8. John B. Casterline & John Bongaarts & Mahesh Karra & David Canning & Joshua Wilde, 2017. "The Effect of Fertility Decline on Economic Growth in Africa: A Macrosimulation Model," Population and Development Review, The Population Council, Inc., vol. 43, pages 237-263, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Arpino, Bruno & LUPPI, FRANCESCA & Rosina, Alessandro, 2021. "Changes in fertility plans during the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy: the role of occupation and income vulnerability," SocArXiv 4sjvm, Center for Open Science.
    2. Emery, Tom & Koops, Judith C., 2021. "The Impact of COVID-19 on Fertility behaviour and Intentions in the Republic of Moldova," SocArXiv fcqd9, Center for Open Science.

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    JEL classification:

    • J1 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics
    • Z0 - Other Special Topics - - General

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