Conferences in The Australian

The Australian yesterday reported on my study with Andrew Leigh and Elena Varganova on the impact of obstetrics conferences on birth rates (they go down).

AUSTRALIA’S baby birth rates drop significantly when obstetricians gather for their annual conference, according to quirky new research.

The study of birth data found that specialists appear to be timing their deliveries to conform with their conference schedules.

Researchers at the University of Melbourne studied long term birth rates in Australia and the US and found they decreased by 2-4 per cent in both countries during major conference days.

In Australia, birth specialists tend to hold their congress during September and October, which coincides with the peak birth period of spring and autumn.

US obstetricians, on the other hand, routinely gather during a birth lull in April and May, according to the report in the journal Social Science and Medicine.

Lead researcher, economist Joshua Gans, and his colleagues argued that Australian obstetricians should consider moving their conference dates to minimise the risk to babies.

“Since it is unlikely that parents take these conferences into account when conceiving their child, this suggests that medical professionals are timing births to suit their conference schedule,” they wrote.

“Although little is known about the effects on infant health of moving the timing of a birth for non-medical reasons, it is plausible that such changes may increase the chance of birth complications.”

The increased risk was likely to be small, since the changes to birth dates were slight and anticipated.

They suggest that obstetrics conference organisers shift their congress dates to late November or early December “when the natural birth rate is at a minimum”.

However Dr Roy Watson, acting president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, questioned the findings.

He said the results showed no boost in birth numbers either side of the conference dates, as would be expected.

And only about 200 of Australia’s 1500 birth specialists attend the national conference each year, leaving the majority still at work.

“So it doesn’t quite ring true,” Dr Watson said.

First of all, the impact was not large (maybe 4 or 5 percent in Australia and 2 percent in the US). Dr Watson’s muted reaction is interesting for, as I have noted previously, the College did shift their annual conference between the time we sent them a non-public version of our study and the time it was released publicly.

See also The Sydney Morning Herald, Herald Sun, Age,The Border Mail.

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