Canadian fertility rates up, but not high enough

  • September 24, 2009
{mosimage}More women are having more babies, but still not enough to sustain Canada's population, reports Statistics Canada.

The latest numbers are from 2007 and show a 3.7-per-cent increase in births over 2006. It's the fastest increase in the birth rate since 1989.

The question for some observers is whether the uptick in births has anything to do with public, government policy.

"I don't think there's any government policy that can come around and change this way of thinking," said Andrea Mrozek, the Institute for Marriage and Family Canada 's manager of research. "For decades now we've been told that we don't need a lot of kids — kids are economically a burden, it's difficult, it's expensive, will there be day care? — all these sorts of things. I think it's too late. You can't turn around now and say, 'By the way, we think you should have lots of kids.' ”

For Catholic Organization for Life and Family director Michele Boulva a change in attitudes has to include government policy.

"I can't help but wonder what would be the impact of governmental promotion of marriage and parenthood and the development of fiscal measures which give parents true freedom," she said.

Boulva would like the tax system to provide equal incentives for affordable day care and for parents to stay at home and raise their children for at least three years.

"Perhaps some of the government measures developed to encourage births are bearing fruit," she said in an e-mail to The Catholic Register.

She believes increased maternity leave which can be split between mothers and fathers has probably contributed to the 2007 increase.

Mrozek points out that Alberta, which had the largest increase in births, has no government-sponsored day care. There were 49,028 babies born in Alberta in 2007, an 8.4-per-cent increase over 2006.

An urban bias against having children is the biggest reason why Canada can't replace itself, according to Mrozek.

 "When you grow up in downtown Toronto and you never, ever see any women with children living satisfied, happy lives it further perpetuates the cycle," she said. "You think, 'I couldn't ever be happy' (with children) because you've never seen anyone who has done it."

In urban Canada women are taught to believe they can only afford a child after they have finished their education and securely started their careers, she said.

"You get everything else in gear — career, income, but mostly the career — and then you have kids as some sort of icing on the cake when you are fully settled in all other regards," said Mrozek.

Those pressures to delay child-bearing show up in the statistics. Women 30 and over drove the 2007 increase in births, said Statistics Canada in the 2007 issue of "Births." Women 30 to 34 had 115,415 babies, the largest number of all age groups. In 1997 the largest number of babies were born to women 25 to 29.

There were 367,000 babies born in 2007, which brought Canada's fertility rate to 1.66 babies per woman — the highest fertility rate since 1992. However, the replacement rate is 2.1.

The world's average fertility rate in 2008 was 2.61, according to the CIA World Fact Book. Wealthier nations of Western Europe, North America and Japan generally have fertility rates below replacement. The United States' fertility rate is very close to replacement at 2.05. The United Kingdom's fertility rate is 1.66. Italy and Spain stand at 1.3.

The highest fertility rate in Canada is in Nunavut, where women give birth to an average of 2.97 children. Among the provinces Saskatchewan is tops with 2.03 children per woman. Newfoundland and Labrador lag behind with a fertility rate of 1.46.

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