Evol Med Public Health 11 (1) 244-250 [2023-07-19; online 2023-07-19]
Selection in utero predicts that population stressors raise the standard for how quickly fetuses must grow to avoid spontaneous abortion. Tests of this prediction must use indirect indicators of fetal loss in birth cohorts because vital statistics systems typically register fetal deaths at the 20th week of gestation or later, well after most have occurred. We argue that tests of selection in utero would make greater progress if researchers adopted an indicator of selection against slow-growing fetuses that followed from theory, allowed sex-specific tests and used readily available data. We propose such an indicator and assess its validity as a dependent variable by comparing its values among monthly birth cohorts before, and during, the first 10 months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Sweden. We apply Box-Jenkins methods to 50 pre-pandemic birth cohorts (i.e., December 2016 through January 2020) and use the resulting transfer functions to predict counterfactual values in our suggested indicator for selection for ten subsequent birth cohorts beginning in February 2020. We then plot all 60 residual values as well as their 95% detection interval. If birth cohorts in gestation at the onset of the pandemic lost more slow-growing fetuses than expected from history, more than one of the last 10 (i.e. pandemic-exposed) residuals would fall below the detection interval. Four of the last 10 residuals of our indicator for males and for females fell below the 95% detection interval. Consistent with selection in utero, Swedish birth cohorts in gestation at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic included fewer than expected infants who grew slowly in utero.