The diminishing number of children in our society today is a factor in the demise of our social fabric, says Andrea Mrozek. CNS photo

Andrea Mrozek: Where have all the children gone?

By  Andrea Mrozek
  • February 19, 2022

At least since the 1960s publication of The Population Bomb, many of us have believed there are too many people on this planet. Today, some overbearing environmentalists propel this myth forward by asking everyone from Prince William on down whether it is wise to have a third child. Or even a second. In Vancouver in 2020, a public campaign offered this slogan: “The most loving gift you can give your first child is not to have another.”

It’s time for this crew to realize success is theirs — they can take a long, childless cruise in the Caribbean and ponder next moves over a margarita. The rest of us can begin the thinking that will lead to positive change when faced with the desolation of too few, not too many, people.

Sure, there has been some muted discussion of how to maintain our social safety net when faced with an aging population. The problem of staffing in long-term care homes remains a very live and mostly unresolved issue highlighted most tragically by the pandemic. Yet beyond this there are many other problems we face that are the result of life with fewer children.

One of these is the demise of our social fabric. This sounds somewhat esoteric (what’s a social fabric? Cotton or polyester?) but it actually gets at the core of what matters.

The Toronto Star recently reported Toronto’s population between 2002 and 2021 has seen the number of children age four and under drop by almost 11 per cent where the total population rose by 12 per cent. The fertility rate is 1.3, even lower than the Canadian average of 1.47, which now sits at the lowest it has ever been. (Replacement rate is 2.1 children per woman.)

Experts hint at how a city without children shows little consideration for the future, for the kindness of society, for the communities we live in. Too many people living in one place who are just visiting doesn’t hold promise for peace and prosperity. Empty parks becoming homeless encampments might be an extreme manifestation. When kids are more present there is concern for clean parks, expletive-free lyrics, ads and posters that don’t sexualize youth.

I was sad to see a frozen yogurt spot become a pot store in the corner of Toronto where I grew up. One less place to visit with my daughter — the exchange of a sociable activity (eating ice cream on a patio) for the proliferation of a habit done privately in backyards, the stench of which drives non-users to distraction.

Certainly families leaving Toronto is unsurprising. When we bought a modest first home in Ottawa pre-pandemic, the only thing matching our price point in Toronto was a boat — a floating bachelor pad docked in Lake Ontario. Indeed, finances are a key reason to not have more kids, yet these are tied in to cultural reasons not to have many — or any — children. Children were once an asset when work required the labour of many hands. That’s quite obviously not the world we live in today. Yet for all the valid financial and education-related reasons in our childless present, this is about what matters most to us. Children are not it. The case of the missing ice cream parlour is not about the absence of ice cream. It’s about the absence of delight in small people who find great joy in small things, like endless topping choices, cherries and chocolate.

It’s a vicious circle. With fewer and smaller families, the normalcy of childless lives prevails. The voice of families is less heard. Families have become a minority special interest group without representation. While Ontario’s pandemic policy about schooling has been bafflingly incomprehensible to so many, it might be that there weren’t enough parents for politicians to care. And don’t cite the introduction of   Canada-wide $10-a-day daycare as evidence we care about kids. This policy represents care for government power, stakeholder group power and union power, at the expense of parental power.

Living with a kind of voluntary one-child policy has its limitations, which Toronto is already experiencing. The social fabric — call it a blanket that keeps us warm and together — is really, truly frayed when we stop having kids or families move out. It requires concerted effort from every domain to change our thinking about what the good life means, and family patterns with it.   

(Mrozek is Senior Fellow at Cardus Family.)

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