by Freddie Sayers
Thursday, 11
March 2021
HerdWatch
11:30

Effect of the pandemic or lockdown? FT gets into a twist

Two worldviews clash again
by Freddie Sayers
Credit: FT

“Covid pandemic delivers falling birth rates in heart of Europe” runs the headline in today’s Financial Times. How much difference a word makes. In the strange politics of this past year, whether you ascribe a negative effect to the “pandemic” or “lockdowns” has become a sign of your position on the policy, a whole worldview. If the headline was “Lockdowns deliver falling birth rates,” what a different atmosphere that story would have.

The article goes through the shocking birth statistics coming out of European countries (reported on UnHerd three days ago) showing a dramatic drop in pregnancies from the beginning of the lockdowns. It begins: “It is not just that many more people are dying as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In several countries, considerably fewer are being born.”

And yet the uncertainty whether to ascribe the effects to lockdowns or the pandemic is observable throughout the article. The stand-first of the digital edition (no doubt written by someone other than the authors) refers to “sharp declines in babies being born 9 months or more on from lockdowns in France, Italy and Spain,” and the authors conclude in the article itself that the 23% drop in Spain’s fertility “highlights the likely impact of Spain’s harsh 2020 lockdown, which was at its toughest in March and April, nine months before the precipitous fall in births.”

Scandinavian and Northern European countries seem to be much less badly affected by the plummeting birth rate. Sweden recorded a 6.4% drop for January, and the Netherlands and Finland both recorded slight increases for the month.

“Covid-19 did not hit the Nordic nations and parts of northern Europe as hard as some other countries, particularly early on, which may explain why birth rates were higher there at the start of this year,” the authors conclude.

But if you take the numbers of Covid-19 deaths per million recorded for the period when January-born babies would have been conceived (early April to early May 2020), Sweden was actually worse-hit than Italy during that period and roughly parallel with France and Spain. Famously, however, they were not in a lockdown.

The Netherlands’ lockdown at that stage was less stringent than the Mediterranean countries, according to OurWorldInData’s “Stringency Index”, but they were also recording fewer Covid deaths. As for Finland, it is bottom of both the stringency index and the deaths per million charts for the countries mentioned (including Sweden) so it’s hard to disaggregate.

We should not be surprised to see a pandemic have an impact on birth rates. The Spanish Flu led to a sharp drop in birth rates, and high mortality events like famines, earthquakes and heatwaves typically have a similar impact. Normally they bounce back.

But when the effect is clearly a combination of “the pandemic” and “lockdowns” it tells you a lot about a publication which one they choose to lead with.

Join the discussion


  • You should look at excess deaths statistics from eurostat, which is a more accurate reflection of what actually happened in terms of covid related deaths as many nations classify and record covid deaths differently. When you do that you see that sweden’ excess deaths are actually much less in relative terms than recorded covid deaths would imply. Sweden have only half of UKs excess deaths for example(in % points over normal).

  • This verbal obfuscation will probably happen increasingly in reporting about the humanitarian catastrophe that lockdowns/new normal dogma has caused.
    All of this hideousness will be blamed – in a slight of hand worthy of a later day Goebbels – on the virus instead; as if the virus some how dictates that you simply have to attempt a misanthropic crusade to put humanity (and all associated activities like reproduction) in stasis.
    As for Spanish flu, I dare say we will soon learn that Sars -CoV 2 has retro causal properties and is consequently also responsible for causing this as well.
    I expect a graph from Chris Whitty to conclusively demonstrate this any day soon.

  • As I said yesterday, this is the same story as with anthropogenic global warming (agw). At first there was discussion, then it was perceived as disingenuous to be a gainsayer, finally it was evil if you didn’t agree. As you say, whatever UnHerd thinks, the majority are complicit in encouraging the lockdowns.
    Some 0n this site will see incompetence, others will see (or suggest) conspiracy theories – see Mr Lekas. Nobody will believe any statistics because they have been bent in all shapes over the last year – stats are now the enemy.
    The main thing is to avoid another bite next autumn – – Ithink one is definitely on the cards.

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