Despite the popular myth, it is unlikely there is a correlation between power outages and baby booms nine months later. (Getty Images)
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No, there won’t be a spike in baby births nine months after last week’s power outage that left the county in the dark for more than one full day.

It didn’t take long for North Coast residents to post on social media speculation about what could come out of people being forced to be in the dark, together, for long periods of time.

But, in the parlance of modern times, it’s fake news.

“It’s an urban legend,” said S. Philip Morgan, a Duke professor of sociology and demography, who was cited in an article in Science Daily.

The myth grew out of a power outage that hit the Northeast in November 1965 when an estimated 30 million people lost power in an outage that affected eight states and a Canadian province, the New York Times reported. Nine months later, the New York Times printed a series of articles about the so-called blackout baby boom.

The New York Times quoted an unnamed official from Planned Parenthood Federation of America as saying: “Sexuality is a very powerful force, and people would normally engage in sex if they didn’t have anything else to do. All the substitutes for sex — meetings, lectures, card parties, theaters, saloons — were eliminated that night. What else could they do?”

But research has debunked the much-publicized myth, at least in urban settings.

“It is evidently pleasing to many people to fantasy that when people are trapped by some immobilizing event which deprives them of their usual activities, most will turn to copulation,” demographer J. Richard Udry wrote in an article published in 1970 on the effects to the New York City blackout on births.

An article published on Snopes.com, a fact-checking reference site, makes a similar point.

“Nine months after such events — blackouts, blizzards, earthquakes, erupting volcanoes, ice storms, and even strikes by professional football players — reports about ‘baby booms’ in local hospitals invariably appear in the media,” the article stated. “However, these ‘booms’ typically prove to be nothing more than natural fluctuations in the birth rate (or, in many cases, no variation in the birth rate at all).”

The same holds true for the North Coast.

“There does not seem to be a medical phenomenon around this,” Open Door spokesperson Erik Salholm wrote in an email to the Times-Standard this week, noting local medical staff associated with the clinics declined to talk about the issue.

And local pharmacies are not reporting any spikes in the sales of pregnancy tests or other routes to deal with unplanned pregnancies.

Cloney’s pharmacist Bryan Coleman expressed doubts about the phenomena and said he’s seen nothing in the past week that would support it.

“I don’t recall seeing extra Plan B going off the shelves or any extra visits from Planned Parenthood patients,” he said Thursday afternoon.

Green’s Pharmacy in Fortuna also said there has been no spike in the sales of pregnancy tests this week.

Alfredo Burlando, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Oregon, has proved there is a correlation between power outages and baby booms, but his research centered around Zanzibar, Tanzania, where the power was out for nearly one full month in 2008. The conditions he researched and wrote about do not match conditions seen during the 28 hours in Humboldt County on Oct. 9-10.

In Zanzibar, he said, the rural villages that had electricity often were limited to electricity in public places, which he said, created a social atmosphere where people would meet and hang out.

“You take away that public use of space and people retreat in their house,” he told the Times-Standard on Friday. “It becomes an additional reason why there may be more sexual activity in that case. In the United States, it’s different.”

In fact, during the local blackout, many people ventured out to where there was electricity to charge devices or to be social. The Blue Lake Casino became a hub of services during the outage.

“Then you can find a reduction of births,” Burlando said. “You have to think about the odds of a pregnancy occurring. Any one day, there’s not that many births happening. I’m pretty sure the rate of births after nine months are going to be the same.”

He also noted in his study, Zanzibar residents had restricted access to family planning tools like birth control. In Humboldt County, there is more access to birth control and that doesn’t necessarily halt as a result of the lights going out.

Thus, it would seem, Humboldt County won’t see a baby boom around the time the Fourth of July rolls around.

Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.

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