by Ed West
Wednesday, 3
March 2021
Idea
16:30

Is Netflix behind the Covid baby bust?

Good TV may have a bad effect on demography
by Ed West
Turns out a fatal respiratory disease isn’t the aphrodisiac some thought it might be. Credit: Getty

When we first went into a lockdown just under a year ago I remember lots of people saying that this would lead to a baby boom in nine months because people would be locked up inside together and “nudge nudge”. And I remember thinking — really? I don’t know about anyone else, but spending my day reading about a fatal respiratory disease, with one daily outing to queue outside the supermarket like some bedraggled Soviet babushka, doesn’t strike me as a classic aphrodisiac.

And, as with a thousand Covid takes, it has indeed perished, with the pandemic leading to a huge baby bust in the United States.

This follows similar data in Italy and Britain.

Previous epidemics have had disastrous effects on demography; when Kenneth Clark visited Sienna for his series Civilisation: A Personal View the city’s population had increased from its medieval peak by a total of two people; this lack of growth was a long-term effect of the devastation of the Black Death. Normandy never really recovered from the demographic blow caused by that disease (although 100 years of English hooligans marauding across the region didn’t help.)

And coronavirus, although the vast majority of its victims are elderly and it has mercifully killed very few children, will also have a demographic impact. Hundreds of thousands of people have not been born in Britain because of the pandemic, the effect of which has been to aggravate and accelerate many of the extreme elements of modern life: killing off the high street in favour of big tech; the tendency towards more home working, which was growing anyway; declining social participation, particularly in things like church; and high anxiety levels, which have been steadily growing (if drug prescriptions are a good measure) and exploded in 2020. Some of these things might return to normal, but perhaps not entirely.

Fertility rates also reflect optimism, and few people in the past year can have felt too cheery about the future. But technology is another factor and I also wonder, not entirely facetiously, if TV plays a part.

One of the big drivers of declining teen pregnancies since in recent years has been better and more enjoyable video games. A problem that we consider a moral issue has been solved with  simple technology (although “solved” might not be entirely the right word — perhaps “turned into a different problem” in some cases).

If coronavirus had hit in the 1980s, when there was nothing to watch except Hale and Pace or repeats of Happy Days, it might have led to a baby boom, but now we have Netflix. When everything in life that allows us to have children — housing, in particular — becomes more expensive, and every form of distraction becomes cheaper, it is no surprise that fertility falls.

Pandemics in the past have often been followed by huge baby booms as people rushed to get married and replenish the population. This time, I’m not so sure; after all, there is just so much good TV to watch.

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J Bryant
J Bryant
1 year ago

Ha ha. Yeah, I think the availability of on-line entertainment might play a part in reduced reproduction rates (both human and viral!). Look at Japan (even pre-pandemic) where some young men have retreated from the world and spend all day playing video games in their bedroom.
I suspect, though, that lack of optimism in the future is the real driver of the baby bust. Reproduction rates in the West were declining even before the pandemic for the reasons noted in the article–poor life and job prospects for young people. No one has any idea where the world is now headed post-pandemic.
The author asserts “there is just so much good TV to watch.” For now, maybe. Until you’ve worked your way through all the classic series (The Wire, Game of Thrones, etc). So far as I can tell, the new TV series under production are woke-themed. Their main goal is to preach rather than entertain. I wonder if good TV will survive the new progressive religion.

M Spahn
M Spahn
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Exactly. People feel good about having children in stable, healthy societies with some hope for the future. Not bringing children into a global rat race to the bottom.

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
1 year ago
Reply to  J Bryant

So far as I can tell, the new TV series under production are woke-themed. Their main goal is to preach rather than entertain.

This. One of my students recently bemoaned the fact that entertainment is ruined for them by blatant woke messaging. Many such shows have become entirely predictable. I think there is a generational backlash brewing against Wokeism. As far as I can tell, most young people are tired of the being told they are bad people with a historical debt to repay. My wife, who is an American, told me that wokeism is pretty much daily bread and butter in the US public education system, and that as a child she learned to tune it out. She’s also an Economics major, and has a cynical theory that certain demographics are prey to making unsound financial decisions and that is why much media, entertainment and advertising is marketed toward them. A good example of this is how innocuous cultural artifacts like Dr. Seuss has fallen victim to cancel culture for being offensive, yet music with clearly misogynistic and racist overtones is ignored or even celebrated.

Last edited 1 year ago by Brian Dorsley
Alka Hughes-Hallett
Alka Hughes-Hallett
1 year ago

I don’t think people would WANT to bring a child into the world nowadays with strife uncertainty and the global population out of control. I don’t think it’s to do with the TV programmes alone . It’s a conscious choice & there are many ways to avoid procreation unlike in the past.

These are very unstable, fragile times for individuals let alone having a baby in tow to worry about.

Chris Jayne
Chris Jayne
1 year ago

This is the wrong way round.

Where the human condition is the most precarious birth rates are the highest.

The desire not to have children is one born of affluence and security and very very peculiar to the west

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

I tried to enjoy Netflix, but really, it is 96% drek, or broken down, 30% sick/evil/twisted/sadistic, 30% depraved/degenerate. 20% stupid, 10% pure Wokism, 6% infantile, and the 4% good enough.

Prime numbers are a bit worse though, making Netflix a better choice, but only for the few weeks you get given by both of them to get your custom..

Brian Dorsley
Brian Dorsley
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

The only reason I have Netflix is for the old 1990s Star Trek shows.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

Funnily enough I’ve just read a book called ‘The Great Wave’ by David Hackett-Fischer that touches on this. The book follows the various waves of inflation since 14th century, and the periods of price stability between those waves.
The book frequently refers to declines in population caused by uncertainty in terms of economic collapse, war, crop failures and disease etc. Of course, in the past this was often due to the basic act that there wasn’t enough food to feed any more people, which is not a problem we have in the West.

Julia Wallis-Martin
Julia Wallis-Martin
1 year ago

Women are choosing not to have children because the alternative is insecurity, poverty, and relegation to 2nd Class Citizenship. As ‘contracts’ go, marriage is no longer worth the paper it is written on. Flexible working hours enabling women to meet caring responsibilities often result in them working during what would once have been leisure time, and the cost of childcare is equal to, sometimes greater than, a mortgage. Exhaustion, anxiety, and depression are so commonly suffered by mothers that these mental illnesses are now considered normal. Who in their right mind would sign up for it?

Robert Malcolm
Robert Malcolm
1 year ago

Spot on. And the thing about not having children is that you don’t miss what you haven’t got: though you soon find that kids bring huge sacrifices: financial burdens, housing costs, and all to as significant reduction in your autonomy and fun.
I suspect that a lot of young stay at home with mum and dad mid-twenties just satiate on free online porn anyway: why bother with a real relationship when you can watch improbably well endowed and attractive people having sex , and (sort of) join in ?

Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
1 year ago

This has all the intellectual heft of a 6th form essay.

Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
Meghan Kathleen Jamieson
1 year ago

According to what I have heard from medical people where I live, albeit not something that’s been publicly acknowledged, abortions have increased really significantly since Covid. That might have more to do with lack of a baby boom than Netflix.

Antonino Ioviero
Antonino Ioviero
1 year ago

As abortion figures have to be published by law, what do those say?

justin
justin
1 year ago

Mr West’s worldview on demographics is detached from reality and stuck in the “more of everything is better” mentality that we’re thankfully getting past now.
Intelligent and “eyes-open” observers can see that the world is grossly overpopulated for the resources that we available to us – environmental degradation, species loss and atmospheric carbon are at or near tipping points, and all are aggravated by global population growth.
It makes unequivocal sense for humans to copulate as much as they wish, as long as they avoid giving birth. Having fewer children is the single best thing we can do to preserve a liveable planet.

Chris Jayne
Chris Jayne
1 year ago

My wife had a baby last week. Not sure I can comment on this haha.

Meat Eater on Netflix is super. Outside of that I really don’t feel like I’m getting my monies worth.

Andrea X
Andrea X
1 year ago

Not to be fussy, but the article about Italy is dated last December and referring to 2019, so hardly relevant.
I cannot read the one about Britain, because behind a paywall.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrea X