It’s been a little more than 9 months since Barack Obama was elected president. The hope, elation, and excitement of those who supported him was at a zenith on the night of November 4th, 2008 – so much so that some predicted a small Obama baby boom might follow in August of 2009. Is it happening? It’s too soon to tell, but many news organizations including MSNBC are already pouncing on the opportunity to be the first to proclaim the boom a bust.
MSNBC and The Chicago Tribune both report that there was no boom in August, citing anecdotal reports and opinions from nurses and obstetricians at a few major hospitals. It would seem that the news outlets’ confidence stems not from any published accounting of births recorded, but rather from the inherent improbability that one single event like a presidential election could sway a nation’s birth rate in any sustained way (as opposed to world wars and economic depressions which can certainly effect population bubbles).
The largest mainstream media outlet to hype the Obama baby bubble was Newsweek in 2008, calling the possibility “Change You Can Conceive In.” Newsweek also noted that Obama himself, born August 4th, 1961, might have been conceived on the very night JFK was elected to the presidency 9 months prior in 1960. Bloggers from Fox News to the Huffington Post amplified the buzz, and noted that the collective mood of 52% of the country seemed to be one of sustained hopefulness through at least the Inauguration.
So has the first trickle of Obama Boomers begun to arrive this August? It is hard to find actual data that is reliable and in the public domain this early. The Census Bureau and the Department of Health and Human Services do not publish such real time data that I can find. Birth certificates issued in August might be a good proxy, but once again this information is difficult to obtain. I’ve asked some of the local Ob/Gyn’s whether they’ve had an unusually busy August, and most told me they have noticed a modest uptick in births, but I realize the quality of these opinions, like those obtained by MSNBC and The Chicago Tribune, is minimal.
It does seem premature to report on the presence or absence of a boom, or even a bump, without any hard numbers, yet The Chicago Tribune, MSNBC, the NY Daily News, The Free Republic, Air America and others go ahead anyway, and are pretty safe in so doing, not because of any hard numbers they present for us to consider, but rather because sustained economic woes and rising unemployment are much more important factors affecting a couple’s choice of timing.
The Chicago Tribune does credit Obama, however, with boosting the name Barack from relative obscurity in the United States:
Though his election apparently did not spawn a generation of Obama babies, the president may be tickled to know he has inspired a generation of baby names.
In 2008, the name Barack set what’s believed to be a record for the Social Security Administration’s annual Most Popular Baby Names list by skyrocketing more than 10,000 spots on the list, from No. 12,535 in 2007 to No. 2,409 in 2008. And the Social Security Administration predicts the name will even crack the top 1,000 this year.
As an aside, you might wonder how the name “George” is doing. In 2000 it was the 130th most common name in the U.S., but after the election it soared to become the 129th most common in 2001. By 2008, “George” had dropped to the 153rd most common name chosen for a boy.
So while major media outlets report that the blogger-and-Newsweek-postulated Obama Baby Boom isn’t happening, it is important to realize their reporting is not so much validated by their scanty anecdotal evidence, but rather by the improbability of this one discrete event in time outweighing the overwhelmingly negative macroeconomic forces of the past 9 months.
That being said, it will be interesting to see if there is a tiny, statistically significant Obama Baby Bump resulting from the 52% of Americans that were quite happy in the weeks that followed November 4th, 2008. The percentage of Americans who feel the country is headed in the right direction has increased to 44% from 15% in December, so perhaps there will be a surge in baby-making optimism, and we’ll be talking about a Cash-for-Clunkers-Bernie-Madoff-going-to-prison-Bernanke-renominated Baby Boom.
Just remember – you heard it here first.