As for me – I’m looking forward to spending the morning (virtually) with the leadership team at Bow Valley College, to discuss the ways CdnPSE can best navigate the turbulent post-pandemic times ahead. (As we all juggle virtual, hybrid, and live events, I’m starting to do the same – although, as I emphasized yesterday, I’ll wear a mask whenever I can.)
For today’s (brief) newsletter, it’s time for another instalment of my ongoing series looking at some of the surprising impacts of the pandemic. You may recall, we started with the rapid pivot online and the startling lack of gap year deferrals, looked at the asymmetric impacts of the digital divide, some early indicators of learning losses in PSE, and the even more worrisome losses in K-12.
With Father’s Day coming up this weekend, it seems timely to look at another trend that defied the expectations of some prognosticators (although I was never among them…)
Those hoping for a demographic boost in response to lockdowns and paid time off work were sorely disappointed…
Not like Blackouts
Early in the pandemic, giddy media headlines predicted that the enforced intimacy of lockdowns might spark romance and a subsequent baby boom, rather like brief power outages or ice storms had done in the past. Instead (as in almost all historical pandemics), the combination of cabin fever, health and economic anxieties, social distancing and bar closures did quite the reverse: COVID19 prompted an abrupt “baby bust” that will ripple through K-12 and PSE enrolments over the coming 17 years. Scientific American
Not only were fertility treatments paused during pandemic surges, but parenting evidently looked more challenging during school and daycare closures, while inflation was driving up the cost of family-sized housing. Early in 2020, calls to Australian abortion counsellors quadrupled from women in later stages of pregnancy, who were twice as likely to cite family violence and financial insecurity compared to pre-pandemic. Apparently, absence makes the heart grow fonder (hence the post-war baby booms) but enforced presence does the opposite. Globe & Mail | Sydney Morning Herald
“Some women will age out of fertility… many couples are likely to experience persistent earnings and income loss on account of this economic crisis. That will mean fewer babies born ever, not just this year.” – Melissa Kearney, economist, uMaryland
US Births Dropped
Starting 9 months after the pandemic began, 7 of 22 high-income countries saw birth rates decline significantly – in some cases, by up to 9%. American economists have estimated 60,000 fewer births prompted by the first 5 months of the pandemic alone. The demographic suppression peaked in January 2021, in response to peak uncertainty 9 months earlier, in April 2020. What’s intriguing though is that the lull in conceptions tracks more closely to regional COVID19 deaths than to unemployment, the impact of which was somewhat moderated by emergency government aid. (It didn’t help that statistics showed pregnant women were 13x more likely to die of COVID19 – although many had postponed vaccination.) Couple health anxieties with economic uncertainty, though, and you have profound disincentives to procreate.
“This crisis is not just sending ripples of loss across American families. It’s also an economic crisis, a child-care crisis for parents, an upending of our social institutions and way of life, and of course an ongoing public-health threat.” – Emily Smith-Greenaway, sociologist, U Southern California
Canadians Hesitated Too
Preliminary Statistics Canada data show that 13,434 fewer children were born in 2020 than in 2019 (a 3.6% decline), with the steepest declines in the final months of the year. Curfews and stay-at-home orders reduced Canadian teen pregnancies by 13%, in particular. (StatsCan reported 5,722 live births to mothers aged 19 and under, compared to 6,449 in 2019.) I haven’t spotted reports yet on births for 2021.
Most demographers anticipate a rebound in birth rates after COVID19, as after most recessions and pandemics. (The waning of the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, after all, helped usher in the “Roaring Twenties.” But then again, many countries are still waiting for birth rates to bounce back from the Great Recession of 2008!) Ongoing epidemiological and economic uncertainty makes it difficult to predict when we’ll reach that point of renewed optimism. And a slowdown in normal dating behaviours, casual sex, and even children moving out of the parental home may all make the fertility recovery even more gradual than the economic one.
“People are having less sex, but there’s also just less relationship-building, less taking it to the next level… It’s sort of like the social metabolism of family life has just slowed down—in this case, literally from isolation.” – Philip Cohen, sociologist, uMaryland
A Statistics Canada survey in spring 2021 found that 18% of Canadians age 25-44 were planning to postpone plans for children because of the pandemic, and 14% now plan smaller families – although on the other hand, 7% wanted to accelerate their family plans, and 4% wanted even larger families. (So the net effects were -11% and -10%, I suppose.) The survey also found that stress and anxiety were highest for mothers of children under age 15, many of whom were juggling work and childcare during the pivot to remote instruction. Statistics Canada
The more your institution depends upon traditional-aged students for enrolment, the more impact a 1 or 2-year dip of up to 10% in the number of 17-year-olds could have on your enrolment, come 2037. Of course, that incoming class of 2041 might enjoy slightly smaller class sizes, and find it up to 10% easier to gain admission to their college of choice – so once again, the pandemic will kick smaller, remote, less prestigious institutions, 15 years hence. (I already described the “Amazon Effect” on enrolments back in Feb 2021.)
Of course, many US states are expecting an unhappy baby boom in response to the Supreme Court’s impending decision on Roe v Wade – which will impact higher ed campuses and broader society across North America. (But that’s a topic for another day!)
As CdnPSE emerges from the pandemic, many institutions are shifting their focus forward to the future, putting a fresh face on their public-facing materials…
Refreshed for a 3rd Century
Dalhousie U unveiled a brand refresh last week that positions it “for the global stage, a digital world and a third century of achievement.” The visual identity has been updated with more legible sans serif type (Public Sans), simplified black and gold colours, a streamlined eagle shield (which seems to pluck a few tailfeathers from the last version), and a curvy lozenge shape (the “Dalcon”) that combines the eagle’s beak and wingtip, and produces “limitless” wallpaper patterns. (It looks especially good on the billboard.) Dal’s brand pillars include research impact, academic excellence, engaging community and extraordinary location, and its new brand promise is “where infinite ambition meets global impact.” (Oh, and the witty marcom folks at Dal are asking members of the community to tattle on outdated logos, saying “We need your eagle eyes!”) YouTube | Dal News | Brand microsite
As always, thanks for reading!
I’m always on the lookout for innovative ideas about the future of higher ed, so please do drop me a line if you spot something you find thought-provoking, at your institution or anywhere else.
Stay safe and be well!
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