May 13, 2004 Nine months ago, a massive blackout darkened homes and businesses from Michigan to New York to Canada, affecting 50 million people. So it stands to reason that maternity wards should be bracing for a post-blackout boom, right?
Sorry, says a Duke University sociologist who specializes in fertility. There's no reason to believe that the Aug. 14, 2003, blackout will produce a higher-than-average crop of May babies.
"It's an urban legend," said S. Philip Morgan, a Duke professor of sociology and demography and president of the Population Association of America.
The origin of the myth is generally traced to the New York blackout on Nov. 9, 1965, and has been anecdotally linked to everything from ice storms to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Evidence does not support an increase in fertility after these kinds of events, Morgan said.
The Aug. 14 blackout may have encouraged some couples to have sex. But the absence of electricity could have had the opposite effects for others, Morgan said. Some may have been stranded because of commuter problems or the crisis may have required a partner to stay at work. The absence of air conditioning may have increased interest in staying cool as opposed to increasing passion.
Even if the blackout did encourage people to have more sex, that's only one factor in the creation of a baby boom. Many couples still would be using contraception or would not be able to conceive on the night (or two) of the blackout. Finally, even if the couple conceives, they may not be able to carry the child to term or choose not to do so, Morgan said.
For events such as blackouts to have effects on fertility, they need to shift more people toward certain behaviors; in this case, toward more sex, less contraceptive use, less abortion, he said.
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