Big victories in sport don’t translate into birth spikes nine months later. It is the main conclusion of the study ‘More goals, fewer babies? On national team performance and birth rates’ (More goals, less babies? On the performance of the national team and birth rates), which has just been published in the academic journal Economics Letters. The research, led by professors Luca Fumarco and Francesco Principe, dismantles the myth that after a good performance by a national team there will be spikes in birth rates nine months later in the winning countries or those that have had a great performance.
To be able to make such a correlation, the study has collected data on the monthly birth rates of 50 European countries for 56 years and the performance data of the different teams, based on the results of 27 European and world soccer championships. Research indicates that an increase in the performance of national teams is associated with a fall in birth rates of 0.3% on average, and not with a baby boom as they used to say before.
“The international press has reported on several occasions a baby boom in Iceland nine months after the Euro 2016 victory against England and an increase in births in Barcelona following Iniesta’s goal in the last minute of the Champions League semi-final in 2009. In the US, this phenomenon often be called ‘Super bowl babies‘”, exposes the article in reference to the final of the American football league, one of the most followed sporting events on the planet.
However, the researchers say that, until now, scientific publications on birth rates have focused on other determinants such as socioeconomic conditions, religion, natural disasters, power outages, exposure to the media and the weather. . “The idea that the euphoria generated by sporting success can fuel hedonic sensations and then increase human conception has been widely suggested in society and in the media, but has not received much empirical attention. We fill this gap in scientific literature and we provide the first empirical evidence on the relationship between national sporting success and birth rates “, defend the professors.
The study shows, with a confidence interval of 95%, that after nine months of the competition in question, there is a decrease in the birth rate. Although some reduction is also observed in months ten and eleven, it is not significant.
The research takes into account the performance of the team in a tournament, through the FIFA scoring system, called ELO, but also assesses whether the team has been the one to host the championship. In addition, it includes other specific effects on the birth rate such as the times of the year and the specific characteristics of each country.
“We suppose that these results could be explained by the choice that people make when allocating their free time.” Researchers believe that when major competitions take place, people spend their time watching games on television, meeting friends or going to stadiums. The authors believe that following these events, which are irreplaceable, can reduce the time spent in physical intimacy. “Unlike other video entertainment activities (for example, watching movies, series or using social networks), sporting events are characterized by their uniqueness and unrepeatability.” On the other hand, they also argue that a victory for your team can lead to subsequent celebrations, which would further reduce those moments of physical intimacy. And conversely, an early loss in the tournament might not be a detriment to intimacy.
“Major sporting events, such as the FIFA World Cup, play an important role in revitalizing national pride and are by far the most watched events on television,” they argue. They take as an example the last World Cup in Russia in 2018, which attracted a total of 3.6 billion viewers worldwide. According to FIFA, in Europe, 86% of the population watched at least one minute of the competition. They also add that recent studies show that the classification and participation of the teams in a tournament are the “most relevant” predictor in the size of the audience, followed also by the quality of the game and programming variables.
The study has combined Eurostat data on births in 50 countries, from 1960 to 2016, with the performance of each team, by the ELO scoring system, which is the one used by FIFA. This system takes into account two aspects of performance: the result of individual matches and its importance, and what accumulates throughout a competition. In total, the results of 13 European Cups and 14 World Cups have been analyzed.
In any case, the study authors acknowledge in their final part that, although their data may shed light on the subject, they do not allow them to “investigate the mechanisms that link the performance of national teams and birth rates”, but they attribute it to the allocation of people’s time.
This graph shows that there is a significant relationship between the decrease in the number of births after nine months of the competition.
To find out what all this would mean in a particular case, one of the researchers, Luca Fumarco, put into practice the conclusions of the study in the Spanish case for elDiario.es. First, calculate the average performance of the total of the teams and obtain 127.74 points. This mean is divided by the “standard deviation” that they have calculated to be 18. After this, it is multiplied by the estimated impact in the study, this is 0.003. The result that would be obtained is that nine months later the number of births would be reduced by 2.13% for a team that performs on the average. If the result were worse, for example, not qualifying even in the first round of the league, the decrease would be less.
Finally, for the Spanish case, given that the monthly average “in the entire period for which we have data on Spain” is 43,000 births per month, we obtain that the birth rate would be reduced by 916 births. “This figure is only a prediction, made with an a posteriori calculation, to give an idea of what 0.003 represents as a possible impact on society,” explains Fumarco.
In the following graph you can see a comparison between the evolution of daily births in spring and the rest of the year. In 1984 Spain was a finalist in the Eurocup, although it lost the final against France. The following year, in spring, there were 1,264 daily births and in the rest of the months, 1,246. In this case, despite the good performance, the rate for those months increased by 1.4%.
For the following tournaments in which the Spanish team reached the final, and won it, a downward trend can be observed when comparing some months with others. In 2011, a year after Spain won the World Cup in South Africa, there were 1,284 births on spring days and 1,296 births in the rest. In this case, as for the subsequent years in which Spain won two Euro Cups, the decrease in the birth rate in the spring months is confirmed.
Still in the case of 2011, the daily difference is 12 births, which if multiplied by 31 days (not for February), gives a total of 372 fewer births in one month. Almost two-thirds less than the estimates in the Fumarco and Principe study, which stood at around 1,000. For the year 2013, after winning a European Championship, the calculations are closer: a total of 1,085 fewer births in a spring month.