Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

A baby was born–lots of them

Posted by metaphorical on 20 December 2006

The idea of “blackout babies” is an urban legend, nevertheless,

For decades and decades, the busiest day of the year in the nation’s maternity wards fell sometime in mid-September. Americans evidently do a lot of baby-making during the cold, dark days of December,

reports David Leonhardt in today’s NY Times. But that was before increases in the 1990s in the tax benefits of having a baby—meaning a benefit to having your baby in December instead of January.

In the last decade, September has lost its unchallenged status as the time for what we will call National Birth Day, the day with more births than any other. Instead, the big day fell between Christmas and New Year’s Day in four of the last seven years — 1997 through 2003 — for which the government has released birth statistics.

Of course, there could be various other reasons.

to see if taxes were truly the culprit, Mr. Chandra and another economist, Stacy Dickert-Conlin of Michigan State, devised some clever tests. They found that people who stood to gain the most from the tax breaks were also the ones who gave birth in late December most frequently. When the gains were similar, high-income parents — who, presumably, are more likely to be paying for tax advice — produced more December babies than other parents.

Induced births and Caesarean sections aren’t really the best things in the world for either the mom or the baby, and they’re an added expense as well—a major expense that gets pushed onto the health care system so that the family can get a smaller personal benefit. There’s an easy way to fix this—Leonhardt makes the obvious suggestion of pro-rating the tax benefit to be n/12ths per month (1/12th in December). Or we could just fix the tax code entirely.

3 Responses to “A baby was born–lots of them”

  1. Lara said

    The “cold, dark days of December” theory falls to the ground when one looks at the Southern Hemisphere. Apparently October is the commonest birth month in Australia:
    It would be a stretch to imagine that New Year’s Eve is the culprit, even with an acknowledgement that normal first pregnancies are more like 41 weeks long than 40. Summer holiday vacations seem a more likely cause.

    The second commonest birth month is March, however, lending a little credence to the winter-comfort hypothesis.

    On financial benefits, there was a very definite dip-burst in birth rates just around the introduction of the “baby bonus” payments, showing that families were delaying scheduled births:
    This led to much hand-wringing in the press about the risks of delaying all of these obviously medically essential and urgent C sections and inductions. This all eventually fizzled out when people realised the perinatal stats hadn’t moved a jot.

    No one outside of natural birth advocate circles seems to have quite realised that this means those interventions perhaps weren’t quite so medically essential and urgent after all.

  2. What a great link!

    Entertaining as it may be to see how people respond to incentives, we don’t think that it can be good to have the timing of 1000+ births affected by a government policy.

  3. And now there are ways to induce labor naturally, at home, without the help of a doctor.

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