Is the “Sandy Baby Boom” Bullshit?

Janes Carousel DUMBO superstorm sandy brooklyn

  • “Aw, honey, look, a carousel. We should have a baby!”

During the Blackout of 2003 I knew a guy who knew a guy who took home two ladies that night and had the best blackout ever. Which fits in with a theory about disasters, both natural and manmade, that we all seem to believe: that when the power goes out or the rains start to fall or whatever, we all decide to do it. Not only that, but we tend to have unprotected sex and, nine months later, a whole bunch of extra babies are the result. “This is just old basic physiology,” a local gynecologist told the Times. “There’s no Internet and no cable. What else is there to do?” Uh, playing cards? Board games? Colored pencils? TALKING? READING? CHARADES? I know there’s a cliche we get from television commercials and sitcoms about sexless marriages, a whole country of people over 30 who only have sex on anniversaries and during natural disasters because they’re too busy checking their phones, but a quick Google search reveals lots of studies suggesting Americans have sex regularly—maybe not every day, but not never neither. Why would a sudden loss of power suddenly drive us all to lose our clothes, inhibitions, and birth-control senses?

Then again, why not? I mean, look, it’s not really the sex thing here that doesn’t make much sense; sure, you’re inside, probably drinking, romantic candlelighting, etc. But, what, no one is on birth control? No one has condoms, and the walk to the pharmacy is too scary? Does no one ever have sex but when they do it’s unprotected so when everyone suddenly has sex during a disaster pregnancy rates rise as a matter of statistics? Is everyone really as dumb as you think they are? Are all the misanthropic cliches true?

No, they’re not! In fact, this whole idea of disaster-induced bumps in birthrates is bullshit: as often as it happens, it doesn’t happen. “No statistically sound effect on births was found after the 1965 power failure in the Northeast,” the Times reports. “Nine months after the 2003 blackout in the region, the number of births in New York City actually dipped slightly compared with a year earlier.” One study “found that ‘high-severity advisories’ had a significant ‘negative fertility effect,'” according to a different Times article. “And a study of decades of data in Italy and Japan found similar decreases in fertility after earthquakes.” There was no increase in childbirths in the summer of 2002. Isn’t it just as intuitive to think that disasters are fucking scary and would make many people think twice about bringing another person into a world of such violence?

So, everybody keeps talking about a forthcoming “Sandy baby bump,” when we’re supposed to see an uptick in late-July births because of the storm. The Times even found anecdotal evidence of it! But I’m not so sure. For starters, that “no cable/no Internet” theory in this example seems weak to me: most of the places that lost electricity during the storm, at least in the city, were those hit hardest, where people were fighting for their lives, not fucking out of boredom.

Also, the number of births in the city is typically at its highest in July. Even so, there still could be a modest uptick in births this summer; we’ll know once the dates pass and real data are in. But even if we do see an increase in births, that doesn’t mean it’s because of a storm that destroyed so many homes and battered so many communities. It’s probably just a coincidence, no matter how many anecdotal ledes the local media is able to muster.

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart


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