The Latest Blizzard Baby Boom, and an Enduring Media Myth


Will this winter's whopping snowstorms lead to a baby boom? The idea that blizzards and other natural disasters automatically lead to a rise in births nine months later is one of the media's favorite urban legends. And it's easy to see why.

Think of it: millions of people stuck in their homes for long periods of time. If the electricity goes, they can't watch TV, surf the Internet, or use their landlines to phone friends to complain. After candlelight Yahtzee loses its allure, there's still one activity that keeps them occupied and conserves body heat -- and can bring a new human being into the world.

It is, of course, nonsense. But a Philadelphia TV station recently reported that local doctors "say a blizzard baby boom is probably on the way." Philadelphia, like much of the Northeast, has had some record snowfalls this winter and got hit again Thursday.

No Correlation Exists

The legend that disasters lead romance to bloom has been around at least since 1965, when a blackout hit New York City. It has been linked recently to ice storms in the U.K. and Hurricane Ike in the Gulf. One blog claimed there was a 44% increase in births in 2008 in a Dutch town that experienced a two-day power outage. A local TV station in Plano, Texas, quotes a local obstetrician/gynecologist as saying he expects "a bit of a baby boom come November," following the snowy winter.

The problem is that there's no proof that such a correlation exists. "Some of these urban legends are hard to kill," says Philip Morgan, a sociology professor at Duke University. "They have power, because people want to believe in them."

But baby booms "caused" by snowstorms or blackouts make little sense, for reasons both biological and practical. Having more sex does not likely lead to pregnancy, particularly for couples using contraceptives. The number of couples who are trying to have a baby and succeed thanks to some help from the weather is likely small, Morgan says.

A Boom in Oklahoma

That's not to that say outside events don't influence fertility. Scientists did find a baby boom in Oklahoma City following the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Researchers found about 600 more annual births in metropolitan Oklahoma City than trends would have predicted, for at least four years following the bombing. That was enough children to fill as many as two dozen elementary classrooms at each grade level.

Unlike couples trapped in a blizzard, the people in Oklahoma were responding to an event that shook them to their core, causing them to take a hard look at what was important to them, such as family, Morgan says That's a far more powerful argument for procreation then being snowed in with your partner in a freezing house.