Verdict: very limited baby boom in Chicago due to Feb 2011 snowstorm

It is a common story that natural disasters lead to baby booms as residents have little else to do except spend “quality time together” (a perhaps unintentional euphemism from the story cited in the next sentence). But the academic research on the topic isn’t so clear – here is a quick review from Friday’s front page story in the Chicago Tribune:

Udry’s [negative] finding [regarding a lengthy 1970 New York City blackout] is frequently viewed as the final word in “disaster babies” — the popular debunking website Snopes.com cites it in declaring the phenomenon a myth — but more contemporary research suggests there might be something to the idea.

A 2005 study of birth rates following the Oklahoma City bombing looked at 10 years of data and found that the counties closest to the site had indeed experienced higher than expected numbers of births after the attack…

But perhaps the most intriguing evidence supporting the idea of disaster babies was published last year by Brigham Young University economist Richard Evans. He and his colleagues looked at hurricane-prone counties on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts and compared birth rates that came nine months after the announcement of impending storms.

They found that while the rates went up after the mildest expected disruption (a tropical storm watch) they went down after the most serious (a hurricane warning)…

If Evans is right that the blizzard would only produce a 2% increase in the birth rate, this is not a huge jump. In fact, Evans is cited later in the story saying that this would only be a difference of a “few dozen births” throughout the Chicago region of 8.3 million people. So if there is an effect, it is minimal. But urban legends have lives of their own – another example is the recurring issue of tainted Halloween candy that sociologist Joel Best gamely tries to stamp out.

What about other data regarding the February blizzard like a rise in heart attacks or back injuries or other medical traumas? I can think we can be pretty sure that there was a lot of shoveling that took place.

Even with a small drive, it took quite a while to clear all that snow.

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