Disasters, Demographics and Diapers

The results of an unplanned scientific experiment involving millions of people on the East Coast of the United States soon will be revealed to all of us. The empirical evidence gleaned from this experiment will be analyzed and debated by scholars and laymen alike, probably for decades.

The Sandy babies are coming!

Hospitals in areas clobbered by Superstorm Sandy nine months ago say they’re gearing up for a huge surge of customers in their delivery rooms. Everyone seems to be assuming that the power outages which afflicted millions in the region devastated by Sandy — some folks were without electricity for weeks after the mammoth hurricane ripped through at the end of October — left them with no form of entertainment other than, well, makin’ whoopee.

Predictions about the size of the impending baby boom are about as precise as measuring climate change, and just as panic-stricken.

Here in our home base in Monmouth County, NJ, for example, hyperventilating local news anchors are heralding an impending 34 percent surge in newborns in the next 30 days. Any day now, we expect to see goggle-eyed shoppers emptying supermarket shelves of Pampers. Urban planners no doubt will start bloviating about the need to triple our road projects in the next 17 years to prepare for the day when the Sandy kids start toddling over to the DMV for their driver’s licenses. Shuttered schools will be reopened. Next thing you know, they’ll announce a 21st-century revival of The Howdy Doody Show.

Because we chronicle economic development trends, often driven by demographic changes, we’re paying close attention to the looming Sandy baby surge. At this point, we’re prepared to predict that most of the Sandy babies–boys and girls–will be named Sandy.

But hold on a minute. There’s actually a lot of empirical evidence out there from past disasters, and it doesn’t seem to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the need to huddle together around candles during extended power failures automatically induces labor nine months later.

No statistical effect on births was found after the 1965 power failure in the Northeast. Nine months after the 2003 blackout in the region, the number of births in NYC reportedly dipped slightly compared with a year earlier. We don’t know if that’s accurate, but we can report that Morty’s Sea Food store in the Bronx wasn’t vandalized during the 1977 outage, because that’s what Uncle Morty told us. Maybe everybody on his block was busy making babies.

According to a recent newspaper report, a study several years ago in the Journal of Population Economics revealed a slight uptick in births after minor squalls, but the opposite effect after severe storms like Sandy. Other research found that birth rates sometimes rose during hurricane season, but not necessarily nine months later, and this increase was attributed in part to “anxiety.”  And conventional wisdom tells us that the number of births often peaks during summer months because couples tend to start snuggling under blankets when football weather arrives in the fall.

One research paper we found posted on the Web cited birth records from Zanzibar which showed a 20 percent spike in new babies eight to 10 months after a month-long blackout in 2008. The researcher noted that the increase seemed to be limited to villages that were connected to power utilities, while villages without electricity saw no change in birth numbers. However, the posted paper featured a prominent disclaimer at the top stating “Preliminary and incomplete–Please do not quote,” so you can disregard this paragraph.

Of course, the most famous Baby Boom in history occurred in the years following World War II, which in our view classifies it as another disaster-induced epidemic. The global war in the mid-2oth century lasted six years, from 1939 to 1945. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the tsunami of postwar infants lasted 18 years, from 1946 to 1964. The empirical evidence of this monumental surge is still with us, in the form of 60-year-old Boomers who were spoiled rotten by their doting parents and generally irritate everyone by refusing to grow up. They can be found flocking to Rolling Stones concerts to watch 70-year-old Mick Jagger shake his geriatric booty.

We’d bore you with more statistics of this sort, but it’s probably time to confess: we just wanted an excuse to post a picture of the Royal Baby. It’s the only way to get anybody’s attention this week.

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! The Royal Baby has arrived!