Births in Sagadahoc County dropped by 13% in 2020, the steepest decline in a state that ranks 49th in the nation in birthrates, according to CDC data.

“Everybody’s down,” said John Porter, associate vice president of communications and public affairs at Maine Health, the system that includes Mid Coast Hospital. “COVID has not been good for the making baby business.”

Though some speculated early in 2020 that the pandemic could result in a baby bump, births instead plummeted nationwide, according to recently finalized data. The country’s birth rate in 2020 was 11 per 1,000 women aged 15-44, down from 11.4 in 2019.

Maternity nurses take care of a newborn at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick. The hospital saw 490 births in 2020, down from 585 in 2019. Contributed / MaineHealth

Maine’s rate of 8.5 births per 1,000 women was higher only than Vermont’s. The median age of all Mainers of 44.7 was the highest in the United States, according to the Census Bureau’s 2022 American Community Survey.

A combination of low birth rates and an aging population can lead to population decline if it isn’t offset by gains through immigration, according to Professor Ren Farley of the University of Michigan’s Population Studies Center. This can strain economies and social welfare systems, as demonstrated by Japan’s recent struggles.

“We are not in the same condition as Japan,” Farley said. “In another generation, we could be, but right now we are seeing a fair number of immigrants come into the country.”


The sharp decline in births in 2020, which was especially pronounced in the final months of the year, nine months after COVID’s arrival, likely had to do with pandemic-related stressors, Farley said.

Births at Mid Coast Hospital. Contributed / MaineHealth

“I suspect that many people are quite uncertain about what’s going to happen in the future, so we’re careful about making long-term commitments,” he said. “And certainly, having a child is a long-term commitment.”

Yet the decline in local birth rates began long before the pandemic. According to state data, births in Sagadahoc county have dropped by 21% since 2010, while Maine births are down 11% overall during that time.

Shifting gender roles have contributed to this long-term trend, as more women now are able to prioritize careers over childrearing, according to Helen Hemminger, Research and KIDS COUNT Associate for the Maine Children’s Alliance. Yet she stressed more couples might decide to have children if affordable child care and housing policies made starting a family more economically feasible.

“What you want is choice,” Hemminger said. “Not a false choice because people can’t afford to have children.”

Midcoast business owners and city officials, like Bath Director of Planning & Development Ben Averill, are hoping to counter the decline in births by making their communities attractive to young people from around Maine and beyond.


“Our comprehensive plan that was last updated in 2009 had some of the basic underpinnings to try to ensure younger folks are coming and make sure that we have the economic draw that folks are looking for,” Averill said. “That’s been something that our Main Street Bath organization and the city’s Economic Development Committee has focused on the last couple of years.”

So far, the effort has largely worked, as a recent influx of people moving to Maine has led to population growth even as deaths have outnumbered births in the state. After decades of decline, Bath’s population rose by 250 between 2010 and 2020, according to census data.

Maine businesses will have to hope that the in-migration trend continues, because there’s little the government can do to halt the birth rate decline, according to Farley.

“I don’t think there are many policies that can reverse it,” he said, citing a similar downturn during the Great Depression. “Some countries, particularly France, tried to promote fertility. They frankly didn’t have very much success.”

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