Behold the awesome power of the tax code, which can cause thousands of children to be born December 31, instead of January 1.
For decades and decades, the busiest day of the year in the nation’s maternity wards fell sometime in mid-September. Americans evidently do a lot of baby-making during the cold, dark days of December, and once a baby has been made, the die for its birth date has largely been cast.
Or at least that’s the way it used to be. In the last 15 years, there has been a huge increase in the number of births that are induced with drugs or come by Caesarean section. In either case, parents or doctors can often schedule a baby’s arrival on a day of their choosing.
Not surprisingly, they tend to avoid weekends and holidays, when doctors have other plans, hospitals are short of staff and the possibility of an unfortunate birthday — Christmas Day, anyone? — looms. During holiday weeks, births have become increasingly crowded into the weekdays surrounding the holiday.
Over this same period — since the early 1990s — the federal government has been steadily increasing the tax breaks for having a child. For parents to claim the full amount of any of these breaks in a given year, a child must simply be born by 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31. If the baby arrives a few minutes later, the parents are often more than a thousand dollars poorer...
In the last decade, September has lost its unchallenged status as the time for what we will call National Birth Day, the day with more births than any other. Instead, the big day fell between Christmas and New Year’s Day in four of the last seven years — 1997 through 2003 — for which the government has released birth statistics. (The day was in September during the other years; conception still matters.) Based on this year’s calendar, there is a good chance that National Birth Day will take place a week from tomorrow, on Thursday, Dec. 28.
“It’s phenomenal what’s happening in late December,” said Amitabh Chandra, a Harvard economist who provided many of the numbers here. “December is not really a particularly busy time for babies to be born. So to see a spike that’s equal to September is astounding...”
By my calculations, about 5,000 babies, of the 70,000 or so who would otherwise be born during the first week in January, may have their arrival dates accelerated partly for tax reasons. When Mr. Chandra interviewed one mother in central Kentucky, she told him her doctor encouraged her to schedule a late-December birth well in advance, to be sure she got a delivery room. Anecdotes aside, Mr. Chandra thinks my estimate of 5,000 is conservative, based on his own more sophisticated statistical analysis...
The Times also provides a list of the most common birthdays. If you want to see the effect of scheduled deliveries on this list, note that February 14 - Valentine's Day - is the most common birthday in February. It finishes 54 spots ahead of the next most common February birthday.
And my birth month - that same month of February - is extremely unpopular, with only 4 days in the top 200. Plus it holds the distinction of carrying the day that finishes in 366th place. If you can't figure out what day that is, you drank too much last night.
Hat Tip: Norlos
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