More Deaths Than Births in Apr 2020? Demographic Impact of COVID-Crisis

2018 was the first time in ~80 years when we had less than 1 million natural increase in population (live births minus deaths). Yup – last time that happened was in 1937. We already were in a demographic tailspin – and Covid crisis is poised to make the situation even more terrible.

We have been putting up a lot of “firsts”, demographically speaking anyway (all data below for 2018):

  • Lowest Total Fertility Rate (TFR) ever: 1.729. TFR can broadly be understood as average number of children per woman. A TFR of 2.1 is considered replacement TFR – where population remains stable. (It is a little large than 2 because not all kids survive to childbearing age unfortunately). Signs are the TFR is continuing to go down in 2019 and will likely crater in 2020 as a result of Covid crisis.
  • Lowest Natural Increase in Population since 1936: 0.95 million. Natural increase in population is defined as number of live births minus number of deaths. This is a result of the following two factors.
  • Lowest Number of Births since 1986: 3.79 million. Note that total population in 1986 was ~240 million compared to ~327 million in 2018 – so on a relative scale, there is a significant dropoff. Update: 3.75 million for 2019 as per provisional estimates. 
  • Highest Number of Deaths ever: 2.84 million. With the aging population, we can expect this number to continue climbing, even without considering the impact of Covid-19.

Update: Since I wrote this post, CDC released the provisional natality estimates for 2019. Our trendlines are continuing in the same lower-birth-rate direction. 

We have essentially not recovered from the effects of the great recession. Our TFR in 2006 and 2007 was at above replacement levels: 2.108 and 2.120 respectively. Then the recession happened, birth rates started dropping and have been consistently dropping ever since:(Note the truncated y-axis)

The chart above goes until 2018 – the latest year for which we have final data available. One might keep hope that things turned around in 2019 – but alas – that does not seem to be the case. We have provisional data on Birth Rates until 2019Q3 – and the downtrend seems to be continuing:(Note the truncated y-axis)

Update for 2019: See below for the chart of number of births and birth rate for 2009 as per provisional estimates just released. The baby bust in US has continued unabated in 2019. 

This is the context in which Covid crisis happened. Indications are that this crisis, like the great recession, is likely to lead to a drop in births – we won’t know for sure for some time. However, we do know that Covid is leading to increase in deaths. In fact, deaths because of Covid seems to be significantly higher than the official tally if one considers the all mortality data and just looks at “excess mortality” during the Covid crisis.

The key month here is Apr 2020. Official death toll for Covid in the country during Apr 2020 is ~ 60,000. Actual excess mortality seems to be significantly higher as the chart below from NYT shows:

Considering a conservative estimate of 25% for undercounting, we can estimate excess mortality in Apr 2020 to be ~75,000.

Now, we have provisional birth and death numbers for Apr 2019: Number of Live Births – 305,000, Number of Deaths – 253,000, Natural Population Increase: 52,000

Even if you don’t account for declining birth rates and increasing death rates, even for a conservative estimate of Covid crisis Apr 2020 excess mortality of ~75,000; it looks like in Apr 2020, natural population change will be negative – somewhere around -23,000.

This is MASSIVE. We have not had month with more deaths than births for a long long time. Surely this has not happened in my dataset going back to 1935. This will be the first time in a century that we will have a month with more deaths than birth. First time in a century the country’s population will decline for a month from natural change without counting immigration. Given that immigration has essentially stalled in the Covid crisis as well, we can safely say that for the first time in at least a century, all considered, the country’s population has likely declined  for a month in Apr 2020.

Credit: Header image borrowed from the Economist article on America’s Baby Bust.