Australians will be less likely to have babies amid the COVID-19 uncertainty, according to a leading demographer from The Australian National University (ANU).

Population expert Dr Liz Allen said the virus and fear it brings will change Australia’s demographics and result in serious socioeconomic consequences.

“Research shows people are less likely to have children in a period of uncertainty and scarcity,” Dr Allen said.

“A baby boom is unlikely to happen during the COVID-19 crisis. After severe events, we tend to find a decline in births – we don’t see a boom.

“When basic needs can’t be met by a simple visit to the supermarket, it changes the way people think about having babies. The world feels more frightening, and the prospects for children’s future gloomy.” 

Dr Allen said the way we form relationships will change alongside our adaption to coronavirus health advice.  

“In pure demographic terms, the ingredients required for births are being disrupted. Relationships are especially affected, meaning we are not going to see the formula needed to result in births,” she said.  

“Lack of social mixing, even via dating apps, is denying ingredients necessary for relationship formation.”

The demographer says Australia’s population will also be forever changed by the international border lockdowns caused by coronavirus.  

“This holding pattern of closing the borders will have unprecedented generational impact in terms of economics and infrastructure,” Dr Allen said.

“This will result in serious socioeconomic consequences, the likes we have not seen in modern history.

“The pressure on local and migrant workers to keep the country economically afloat will be enormous. Pressure on workers to remain employed is also likely to lead to stresses on families, and possible declines in birth rates.”

Australia will also see migrants returning to their home countries, Dr Allen said.

“Coronavirus has created a panic that perfectly displays Australia’s lingering White Australia Policy effects,” she said.

“The danger of politicians calling panic buying ‘un-Australian’, is that people might interpret that as the other – the non-locals – being the problem, and it propels racism and this idea that we should fear them.”

“The fear fueling all of this panic buying is a contagion. It is more contagious than the virus itself,” said Dr Allen.

For families with children, Dr Allen said the impact of coronavirus will be felt more by women.

“Women, especially mothers, bear the brunt of household labour and these burdens will amplify as the lines blur between work, family, and social aspects of lives.”

But there is good news. Dr Allen points to community mindedness and a can-do attitude.

“Australians have proven to be made of pretty tough stuff. The sense of community in Australia is still a major bond holding us together, no matter the need for physical distancing,” she said.

“Families are re-inventing the notion of relationships in a time of COVID-19: video chats with relatives, online community gaming, and e-playdates with friends are now being used to build and maintain community.

“Australia, and the communities comprising the nation, are built on hope. A hope for the future, and a confidence in our ingenuity. Australia’s hope and forward outlook will sustain the country during this crisis.”

Dr Allen’s book The Future of Us is out on 1 April.

The book is available for purchase from booktopia.

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