Canada's fertility rate for 2008 was 1.68 children per woman, up slightly from 1.66 per woman in 2007.

Slight rise in Canadian fertility rates

  • May 25, 2011

For the sixth year in a row Canada’s birth rate has inched up, but a polarized job market and pressure on young couples to obtain and pay for their education before starting a family is pushing mothers up against a biological wall.

Statistics Canada reported the nation’s fertility rate for 2008 was 1.68 children per woman, up slightly from 1.66 per woman in 2007. The 2008 fertility rate produced 377,886 babies, a 2.7-per-cent increase over 2007.

Much of the increase can be attributed to the population bulge of children of baby boomers, the so-called “echo generation,” now in their 20s and 30s.

“Canada, in terms of fertility, is the middle of the pack (compared to other Western nations),” said Vanier Institute for the Family director of programs Katherine Scott. “Obviously, we’re below the replacement rate of 2.1.”

The birth rate is also below the intentions of young men and women, who typically say they would like to have two or three children, said Scott.

“Many people will say that they want two or three children. But in Canada, certainly that’s not what the facts on the ground say in terms of the number of children they have,” Scott told The Catholic Register.

While there’s evidence that cheap and accessible day care in Quebec and more generous parental leave policies nationally have encouraged people to have children, government programs can’t overcome the realities of the labour market, according to Scott.

“We are living in a much more polarized labour market. Many families are struggling economically,” she said.

“After this past recession families were delaying having children for really good, concrete reasons. At the end of the day, if you don’t have access to good, stable employment, benefits and the like, families do not decide to have children.”

For the fourth year in a row the largest group of Canadian women having children are aged 30 to 34. The average age for women giving birth is 29.7. The fastest growing demographic for new moms is women over 40. Between 1988 and 2008 the age-specific fertility rate for women aged 40 to 44 more than doubled, from 3.6 to 8.4 births per 1,000 women.

“The reality that young people face, staring them in the face every day, is the need to have higher education credentials,” said Scott.

The result has been a generation for whom lives are on hold when previous generations were settling into marriage, first homes and first children.

“The 20s, it’s a decade of churn,” said Scott. “People are in and out of the labour market, back in school. They may or may not have been through a number of relationships, but have not settled down.”

It’s the economic reality of establishing a career and family that has changed over the last generation, not young people’s aspirations, said Scott.

The percentage of children born to married women has been on a long decline. Where 69.7 per cent of babies were born into wedlock in 1992, by 2008 that number is down to 60.5 per cent. That doesn’t mean there’s been an explosion of single mothers. More than nine out of 10 children are born to stable couples.

The difference has been the increase in common-law couples, particularly in Quebec where common-law couples now outnumber married couples.

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