Mark your calendars, New Yorkers.
The supposed #BlizzardOf2015 may have been a dud (at least in New York City), but approximately nine months from today we will witness another installment of a glorious media ritual: news stories about “blizzard babies.”
In articles filled with tepid, Fifties-sitcom-style innuendo, news outlets will tell you all about the “spike” in births at New York City hospitals, and attribute that purported uptick to Mommy and Daddy being ordered to stay indoors on the evening of January 26.
Many tiny humans will be created, the theory goes, because people stuck inside last night with nothing to do were forced to find alternative ways of “entertaining themselves,” or ways to “keep warm,” or whatever other lame sex reference one can think up.
It’s easy to see why news outlets are attracted to these kinds of stories. It’s an inherently cute idea. Find a couple that’s just given birth, ask them about their activities during the previous year’s natural disaster, maybe get one of the new parents to blush. Boom. Content. These stories also allow reporters to be marginally “edgy” — in a bland, morning-talk-show kind of way — by acknowledging the existence of sex without being too explicit. They strike just the right balance, which is no mean feat, considering that they really describe a kind of desperate, animalistic, fear-induced snowbound humpfest.
The problem is, it’s all nonsense. There’s not a shred of hard evidence to suggest that big snowstorms (or other, similar disasters) lead to measurable spikes in birthrates. Sure, people might do some extra banging over the next few days, and some medical personnel have anecdotal stories. But as Raymond Sandler, director of labor and delivery at Mount Sinai Hospital, explains, most people are not morons.
“I don’t think that there is anybody in their right mind who is going to decide to have a child based on the fact that there’s a blizzard outside,” Sandler says. Couples who are trying to get pregnant might get a few extra chances when they have some time off. But there’s no statistical evidence to support the claim, Sandler says. He adds that there is no reason to think that snowstorms prompt more fucking (that’s our terminology, not the good doctor’s) than, say, an average Saturday.
Sandler is exceedingly polite but seems weary of knocking down pseudoscience every time ice particles fall from the sky. He says the same questions were raised after Sandy, and he saw no noticeable spike in births then either. “It just defies the normal decision-making process,” he says. And contraceptives still work when it’s snowing.
Remarkably, the question of whether or not “blizzard babies” are a real thing was studied — and essentially debunked — as far back as 1970. As the Washington Post noted, Richard Udry, a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studied birthrates after New York City’s 1965 blackout, when lots of families were homebound without electricity, hanging out in close quarters by romantic candlelight — you get the idea. There was no spike then either. But the fact that the scientific basis of the story was slashed to ribbons during the Nixon administration probably won’t stop anybody.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 27, 2015