Whatever happened to the Covid generation?

If couples working from home during lockdown have been happily bonking, they haven’t been proactively procreating, says Jo Knowsley.

Lockdowns, hysteria, uncertainty and economic turmoil have all led to a decrease in pregnancies worldwide...

Wherever I turn in my east London ‘village’ I seem to spy a young woman who’s pregnant – walking the dog, having a herbal tea, or just carefully protecting her baby bump while shopping.

‘Quite obvious what she’s been doing during lockdown’, I’ve thought to myself with a smile, expecting that any day now this burgeoning of births would hit the newsstands.

I could not have been more wrong. If couples working from home during lockdown have been happily bonking, they haven’t been proactively procreating, according to new statistics which predict not a boom, but a bust, in the number of births both here and in America as a consequence of the coronavirus.

Perhaps it’s because we live in such uncertain times, and the economy has been rocked rigid by the virus, but it seems couples are experiencing fear and anxiety about the pandemic, and the fact there is as yet no light at the end of the tunnel or any real hint of when things will return to ‘normal.’

In America, where the rate of new infections is still soaring, there were 3.8m births last year, but the Brookings Institution – a Washington-based US research group – estimates there could be anything between 300,000 and 500,000 fewer births in 2021 as a result of coronavirus.

Public policy experts warn that many women who delayed having children during the 2008-09 Recession might delay again – or decide not to have children at all.

History offers evidence that pandemics result in a fall in birth rates. There was a 12.5 per cent decline in births each time there was a spike in deaths during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-20. When the death rates dropped, birth rates returned to normal.

In Britain there was a lot of nudge-nudge, wink-wink when we first went into lockdown about just how people would keep themselves entertained. But experts here are predicting 75,000 fewer births as result of the pandemic.

It’s not just concerns over an uncertain future that’s driving the trend, there’s also nervousness over the growth in the ramshackle economy and joblessness. Couples may fear they can’t afford to have children at all.

Phillip Levine, an economics professor who co-authored the Brookings paper, said “many of these births will not just be delayed but will never happen”.

The Daily Telegraph reported that a survey of 6,000 people across France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK in the early stages of the Covid-19 crisis found that of those intending to have a child in January, Britain had the highest share of those postponing their plans since the pandemic erupted, at 58 per cent. Nearly one in five said they had abandoned their hopes altogether.

I had wondered, and already worried, about the effect of young children growing up with Covid – never knowing the freedom of non-mask wearing friends and family, let alone relaxed social interactions with strangers. The ‘new normal’ as we adults have branded it, is the only ‘normal’ they’ll really remember.

For months their playgrounds and schools were closed and they were scarcely allowed to go even for a walk. Are these, perhaps, the real Covid generation? And how deeply will they be scarred?

Schools have reported that many teenagers, returning to the classroom, have literally twitching fingers – created by the anxiety of not playing the computer games which some parents allowed them to indulge till as late at 4-5am.

I have long associated the younger generations with not only a competence in, but obsession with, computers and communication technology.

One of the great ironies, for me, as lockdown eased, was the sight of large gatherings of young people, ignoring social distancing guidelines, to party in streets and parks.

Prior to the pandemic many of them eschewed personal contact, and phone calls altogether in favour of texts, WhatsApp messages and emails. Yet suddenly you couldn’t keep them 6ft apart.

If you’d told me then, about the extraordinary effects of Covid on our social lives, I would have thought this was the last generation that needed to be told to ‘keep your distance.’

Overall, however, the greatest impact of Covid-19 seems to have been to leave us all in a state of utter confusion: is it safe to travel?; should we take holidays?; who (and how many people) are we allowed to meet up with and invite into our homes? And now, it seems, people are too scared to have children.

In sci-fi horror movies we have always watched with repelled fascination as characters deal with life in a Dystopian future. Now, to an extent, we’re living in it.

Perhaps the greatest surprise, however, are the high levels of anxiety created by the pandemic: Hell, it seems, is not brimful of horror, but a portrait of uncertainty.

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Jo Knowsley

Jo has held senior staff writing roles on some of Britain’s leading newspapers including the Sunday Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday, and is now a freelance writer. She has reported on major breaking stories around the world and has written for magazines and newspapers in Britain, Australia and New Zealand in publications as diverse as Marie Claire, the Daily Mail, Metro, Saga and Grazia. In the past she focused primarily on news-lead reports and interviews. Today she writes across a number of platforms on subjects ranging from property and travel to theatre and features. She grew up in New Zealand and has made her home and career in London since 1990.

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