The U.S. could have hundreds of thousands of fewer births next year than it would have in the absence of a pandemic.

An empty baby bed in front of a window in a maternity ward.
An empty baby bed in front of a window in a maternity ward.
Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

By now, the pandemic has disrupted Americans’ daily lives for nearly as long as a baby typically spends in the womb. This means that many children conceived in mid-March are weeks away from joining us in this disorienting new world, but just as notable are the children who won’t be joining us — the babies who would have been born were it not for the ongoing economic and public-health crises. These missing births, which could end up numbering in the hundreds of thousands in the U.S., will make up what’s been called the “COVID baby bust.”

One would think that a baby bust would take at least nine months to reveal itself, but traces of one seem to have already appeared. As Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, has noted, births started to decline in California and Florida during the summer. That’d be too soon, though, to reflect a drop in conceptions during the pandemic, or a rise in abortions or miscarriages (which tend to happen earlier on in pregnancy). Three possible explanations, Cohen told me, are errors or lags in states’ data on births, large numbers of pregnant people moving during the pandemic and giving birth in another state, or a large, unexpected drop-off in births that was already going to happen regardless of the pandemic. …

The odds of altering the outcome of the election: close to zero. The odds of altering your relationship with your family: much higher.

Vintage illustration of a husband + wife pulling the wishbone; the wife’s face has text Biden on it, and the husband’s Trump
Vintage illustration of a husband + wife pulling the wishbone; the wife’s face has text Biden on it, and the husband’s Trump
Illustration: The Atlantic; image source: GraphicaArtis/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Lately, Sunshine Hillygus has been hearing the same question from some of her politically active friends. They’ve been writing postcards to voters in swing states and knocking on potential voters’ doors, but they want to know if they’re channeling their energy toward the right things: What should they be doing, they ask her, if their goal is to influence the outcome of the election?

This month, I interviewed more than 20 people who had tried to convince a family member to vote for a particular presidential candidate, or to vote at all, in the 2020 election. Their tones and approaches varied, and so did their results: I heard from a woman whose grandparents met her tearful plea with cold indifference, as well as from a man whose mom ultimately caved because this year, his birthday falls on Election Day. …

Marital instability can be inherited — but less often than it used to be

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Photo: Davin G Photography/Getty Images

Justin Lange did not grow up with many good examples of a stable, long-lasting partnership. After his parents’ divorce, his mom remarried twice more; his dad, three more times.

One lesson Lange took away from his upbringing, he told me, is that “actions speak louder than words — people were willing to [make] a lifetime commitment but not willing to back it up.” Until he joined the Navy and met the fellow sailor who would become his wife, he was reasonably sure he’d never get married or have kids.

But now, Lange is 37, married, and living in Nashville with his wife and their two children. He attributes his present happiness in part to going against the example his parents set. “I had already seen their shortcomings,” he said. “I realized earlier on in life that their mistakes don’t have to be mine.” …

Out with the kitchen table, and in with the couch

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Photo: Ava_Marie/Getty Images

According to a recent survey of more than 1,000 American adults, the table is becoming a less and less popular surface to eat on. Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed said they grew up typically eating dinner at a kitchen table, but a little less than half said they do so now when eating at home.

Where are they dining instead? The couch and the bedroom are both far more popular now than in the respondents’ youth. Thirty percent of the survey takers cited the couch as their primary at-home eating location, and 17 percent took meals in the bedroom. …

The same technological and economic developments that are pulling couples apart are also making geographic separation less stressful and more enjoyable

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Illustration: Malte Mueller/Getty Images

The love life of Stanley Davidge, a 25-year-old network administrator for a national restaurant chain, is absolutely extraordinary.

Almost all day, Davidge, who lives in South Carolina, is in touch with his girlfriend, Angela Davila, who lives in Virginia and is job hunting. Despite being separated by a six-hour drive, they “shoot the bull and stuff” over FaceTime when Davidge has a break at work, they call each other in the car, and they watch TV together at the end of the day using a website that lets them share a screen. …

It’s common to prize novelty in leisure activities, but research suggests that revisiting the familiar can offer unexpected pleasures

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Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

A common, low-stakes living-room scenario: A couple is trying to decide on a movie to watch. There’s an option one-half of the relationship is thrilled about, but the other has already seen it. On those grounds, it’s ruled out.

But a new study suggests that this notion that having already seen it — or read it, done it, visited it — automatically precludes a second go-around might be mistaken. …

Several schools forgo or have abandoned the practice, and seem to be faring just fine

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Photo: Pgiam/Getty Images

Applying to college as a legacy is like having a superpower. It has been estimated to double or quadruple one’s chances of getting into a highly selective school, and has been found to be roughly equivalent to a 160-point boost on the SAT. At the most selective institutions in the United States, it’s typical for 10 to 15 percent of students to have a parent who also attended.

These estimates are, of course, rough; colleges generally don’t share specifics on the advantage they give to legacies — nor, sometimes, on how they define the term (it can refer to children of alumni, or more broadly to other relatives of alumni) — so research on the subject has been limited. …

America’s devotion to the practice stems in part from the fact that it’s what today’s parents and teachers grew up with themselves

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Photo: Africa Studio/Shutterstock/The Atlantic

America has long had a fickle relationship with homework. A century or so ago, progressive reformers argued that it made kids unduly stressed, which later led in some cases to district-level bans on it for all grades under seventh. This anti-homework sentiment faded, though, amid mid-century fears that the U.S. was falling behind the Soviet Union (which led to more homework), only to resurface in the 1960s and ’70s, when a more open culture came to see homework as stifling play and creativity (which led to less). …

The reflections of more than a dozen people who did dedicated cleanouts of their living spaces years ago

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Photo: Hekla/Dasha Petrenko/Goodmood Photo/Shutterstock/Getty Images

For Martin Law, Marie Kondo’s tidying regimen was life-changing, until it wasn’t. Law, a 32-year-old Ph.D. student at the University of Cambridge, went through with most of Kondo’s popular tidying method two years ago. “I managed to get rid of a great deal of items that I previously had found difficult to let go of,” he told me, including about half of his clothing.

After Law’s big cleanout, though, the stuff gradually crept back in. His kitchen gained a series of useful but not vital devices: a new cookie cutter, a larger whisk, a machine for making peanut butter. The accumulations of the past two years have added up. “The house is probably no better than it was — perhaps marginally better, but in reality probably no better,” he says. …

Jeff Bezos is splitting up with his wife — which means they have an estimated $137 billion in assets to divvy up

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Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos in 2017. Photo: Jerod Harris/Getty Images

On Wednesday, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and currently the richest person in the world, and MacKenzie Bezos, a novelist, announced that they are ending their marriage after 25 years. In a joint statement posted on Twitter, the couple said they see “wonderful futures ahead, as parents, friends, partners in ventures and projects, and as individuals pursuing ventures and adventures.”

One such adventure, even if it’s not what the Bezoses had in mind when crafting their tweet, will be divvying up the couple’s enormous financial holdings, which are estimated to add up to about $137 billion.

How will that process unfold and who will end up with how much? It’s common for very wealthy couples to come to an agreement out of court, usually in the interest of privacy. But those who work with really, really rich people know from past experience that their divorces stand apart from those of regular folks. …


Joe Pinsker

Staff writer @TheAtlantic, covering families and education

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