To-Do List: Wrap Gifts. Have Baby. - Intermountain Healthcare
December 20, 2006 ECONOMIX To-Do List: Wrap Gifts. Have Baby. By DAVID LEONHARDT 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 babymaking 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. Unless you’re a cynic, or an economist, I realize you might have trouble believing that the intricacies of the nation’s tax code would impinge on something as sacred as the birth of a child. But it appears that you would be wrong. 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.