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25 March 2020

Will there be more babies or break-ups in the time of coronavirus?

Data from the most comparable periods suggests we will have more of both. 

By Stephen Bush

Which will there be more of: corona-babies or corona-breakups? The growing number of people reducing social contact to a minimum and entering something close to quarantine means that many people are mulling over the issue.

I was curious, so I asked our data guru Ben to investigate for me. There is, of course, an equivalent period of enforced living in which movement is limited, public transport is closed and one rarely leaves the house: it’s called Christmas. And it turns out there is a peak in the British birth rate: it takes place in September, nine months afterwards. The most common birthday for the past two decades has been 26 September – nine months after Christmas. You are 10 per cent more likely to be born during the September peak than any other time of year.

So there is clearly a moderate spike in either people deciding to have a baby, people desperately wanting to get their freak on when they don’t have access to contraception, or a combination of the two. So we can probably say with some confidence that there will be corona-babies. What about corona-breakups?

The British state has thrown two obstacles in our way here: the first is that they do not provide information on the number of divorces by month. The second is that the process of getting divorced under British law is so convoluted and Byzantine that it’s very hard to pinpoint exactly when a divorce starts. The government was, thankfully, pushing ahead with plans by David Gauke to make divorce easier, but they have understandably been paused for the duration of the crisis.

But thanks to the charity Relate, the United Kingdom’s leading relationship advice charity, we can see that there is a similar post-Christmas bulge in break-ups and divorces: calls to Relate are 12 per cent higher and visits to their website 53 per cent higher in January. January is the month when divorce lawyers see the highest single increase in new business in most territories across the world.

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The two trends taken together suggest we will have more corona-break-ups than corona-babies when this is over, though, of course, the two trends are not mutually exclusive. People in structurally unsound relationships have babies all the time, a fact I am grateful for every single day.