A Blog by Jonathan Low


Apr 27, 2019

Is Netflix Causing A Decline In Fertility Rates?

Data suggest the answer is yes. JL

Shalini Ramachandran reports in the Wall Street Journal:

One in four people said they turned down intimacy in favor of binge watching in the prior six months. Among people 18 to 38, the rate is 36%. Demographers have theories about why the U.S. fertility rate recently hit an all-time low, ranging from the aftereffects of the financial crisis to the broader use of long-term birth control. (But) it is hard to ignore the impact of streaming entertainment, popularized by Netflix, Amazon., Hulu and HBO.A 2017 paper, “Archives of Sexual Behavior,” revealed that Americans were having less sex than they did three decades ago and offered streaming video as one culprit.
Once upon a time, Netflix dates were synonymous with romance, best captured by the viral hashtag #NetflixandChill, a euphemistic suggestion disguised as an invitation to watch TV.
These days, the literal chill of the on-demand streaming video service is so great that some young couples call it the new birth control.
Consider this recent episode: Tony Lozzi, 35, tucked his children into bed and went downstairs to find his wife, Amber, streaming Netflix. She had been trying to get pregnant again, and he was in a romantic mood.
She made a counterproposal. “Or we could watch ‘The Prophet,’ ” she said, referring to an animated movie based on a book by Lebanese-American author Kahlil Gibran.
“I’m a mom,” the 31-year-old digital-marketing strategist explains. “I literally just want to Netflix and chill. We stop there.”
Demographers have lots of theories about why the U.S. fertility rate recently hit an all-time low, ranging from the aftereffects of the recession that followed the financial crisis to the broader use of long-term birth control. It is hard to ignore, anecdotally at least, the impact of streaming entertainment, popularized by Netflix and available from the likes of Amazon.com Inc., Hulu and HBO.
A 2017 paper in “Archives of Sexual Behavior,” which revealed that Americans were having less sex, on average, than they did three decades ago, offered streaming video as one possible culprit.
Dr. Jean Twenge, the lead author and a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, says in the old days a favorite TV show was done at 10 p.m. sharp and commercial breaks gave people an excuse to talk to their partners.
“Now, if you’re watching something streaming, the next episode is immediately available, and there are no commercials where you could look over and say, ‘Honey, you look cute tonight,’ ” she said.
Ashley Aranda, a 36-year-old who runs an online business making stationery and lives in Rockville Centre, N.Y., says that at least 25% of the time, she and her husband choose Netflix over sex—despite their wish to conceive a third child.
“There’s always a new episode of ‘Schitt’s Creek,’ ” she says. “We get so comfortable with the blankets, and you got a glass of wine going, and one of us usually ends up falling asleep.”
Trevor and Ronda Race, in their mid-40s, sometimes doff their clothes before streaming at home in Scottsdale, Ariz., though their binge-worthy favorites—including “Narcos,” “Breaking Bad” and “The Ozarks”—hardly help set the mood.
One in four people said they turned down intimacy in favor of binge watching in the prior six months, according to a March survey of more than 1,000 people conducted by SurveyMonkey for The Wall Street Journal. Among people 18 to 38, the rate is higher, with 36% of respondents saying they opted for streaming video.
Several sex therapists say the problem is bigger than Netflix. Technology writ large, including phones, Instagram, YouTube, Fortnite and anything else people do on the internet, is stealing Americans’ attention.
“There has never been a time you could feel more alone with your partner right next to you,” says Dr. Megan Fleming, a clinical psychologist in New York.
NetflixandChill as a pop culture phenomenon peaked in 2015 and faded, according to Google Trends, which tracks searches. Danica Mitchell, a sex therapist in New York, says the connotation of the phrase may have diminished as Netflix’s original series and movies improved in quality, keeping couples glued to their screens rather than getting bored.
Netflix makes no secret of its desire to dominate every free moment of its 149 million subscribers’ time. Chief Executive Reed Hastings has said one of the streaming service’s chief competitors is sleep.
A Netflix spokesman denied any wrongdoing when it comes to the fertility rate, noting that the company’s American subscribers stream an average of just two hours a day per household. “We take pride in being part of the cultural zeitgeist, but getting credit for a decadeslong decline in sex is beyond even our programming abilities,” he said.
Thanks to Netflix’s global reach, the damping effect appears to be spreading. Around Christmas, Singapore-based Zaira Frank, 31, and her husband were watching “Black Earth Rising,” a war-crime drama on Netflix, when he began dropping hints. She demurred and kept watching.
To combat the lure of media, Ms. Frank, who also has a young daughter, proposed making Thursdays a standing date night with no Netflix or screens of any kind. “It has really helped,” she says.
Jillian Watson, a 31-year-old in West Kelowna, British Columbia, says she binge-watches shows with her husband at least three times throughout the week, and they have been trying to have a baby for years. “Netflix is not going to get in the way of that,” she says.
Whether Netflix or sex wins the day depends on what Brandon and Niki Howlett are watching.
“Right now, we’re in the midst of getting through ‘The Punisher,’ and a lot of that doesn’t really put us in the frisky mood,” Mr. Howlett, 32, says of the superhero drama. “Sex Education,” a series about a teen whose mother is a sex therapist, is another story, he adds.
Ms. Howlett, a 32-year-old blogger in Springfield, Ill., whose grandmothers had eight and five children, respectively, suggests boredom may have helped boost sexual frequency among prior generations living in the 20th century.
“It was the ’40s and ’50s and ’60s,” she says. “They only had like three channels.”


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