An uncertain spring, an amazing summer, a cautious fall and winter, and then, finally, relief.

A riverside park facing the New York City skyline, full of people walking along the water or sitting in small groups on blankets on the grass.
A riverside park facing the New York City skyline, full of people walking along the water or sitting in small groups on blankets on the grass.
New York in May 2020. Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

The end of the coronavirus pandemic is on the horizon at last, but the timeline for actually getting there feels like it shifts daily, with updates about viral variants, vaccine logistics, and other important variables seeming to push back the finish line or scoot it forward. When will we be able to finally live our lives again?

Pandemics are hard to predict accurately, but we have enough information to make some confident guesses. A useful way to think about what’s ahead is to go season by season. In short: Life this spring will not be substantially different from the past…

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…

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…

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

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…

Out with the kitchen table, and in with the couch

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

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

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

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…

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

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

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…

Joe Pinsker

Staff writer @TheAtlantic, covering families and education

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