Why the NSW COVID baby boom is going bust

Maternity wards across the state experienced the quietest start to the year in more than a decade as families weigh having children against financial pressures, climate fears and the ongoing impact of the pandemic.

Benefiting from conceptions during the COVID-19 lockdowns, the number of babies born in New South Wales public hospitals peaked at 19,081 between April and June 2021. However, new data from the Bureau of Health Information shows that just 15,868 babies were born in public maternity wards between January and March 2023, the lowest for any quarter since 2010.

Figures from NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages mirror data from public hospitals, with the total number of births falling from 24,693 in the first three months of 2021 to just 20,435 in the corresponding period this year.

dr Liz Allen, a demographer at the Australian National University, said the fall in births is due to both short-term factors – such as couples bringing forward pregnancy plans during the COVID-19 crisis – and longer-term factors such as housing and climate change concerns .

“Given what we’ve just been through with the pandemic and the economic hardships we’re now facing alongside the issues of climate change, more and more young couples are not having the number of children they want,” she said.

“Behind these numbers lies this very complex socio-economic storm that … will continue to unfold for generations to come.”

Claire Neylan, 37, with daughter Olivia and son Tommy, was born on the other end of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Claire Neylan, 37, with daughter Olivia and son Tommy, was born on the other end of the COVID-19 pandemic.Credit: Janie Barrett

Associate Professor Udoy Saikia, a social demographer at Flinders University, said the surge and subsequent decline in births after the pandemic hit was similar to what happened in Australia after World War II, when a baby boom quickly followed as a result of couples being reunited by one decline in the number of births.

“But this is a very temporary phenomenon,” he said.

Justin Scaccy

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