New figures released by Statistics Canada show that fertility there has decreased for the third year in a row.  It hasn’t been above the replacement level of 2.1 children since 1971, and was just 1.61 children per women in 2011.  The National Post reports Derek Miedema, a researcher with the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, as commenting:

 “This isn’t an issue of anyone trying to force people to have kids who don’t want to have them. But it is a long-term concern… As the baby boomers retire, we’re not going to have enough people coming into the workforce to pay taxes to support our social safety net.”

The increasing baby boomer elderly population means that for now the world’s population is still growing, but once they die off it will become a much emptier planet (there are many fewer people stepping on to the earth but, as people are living longer, the growing elderly baby boomer population haven’t yet got off, so to speak).  Jack Goldstone, professor of public policy and a leading demographics expert at Washington’s George Mason University, comments that “it’s not a world that’s going to look anything like any world or population that has existed before…the policy framework isn’t set up at all to handle these longer-term issues”.

However, apparently Canadian families do want more children than they are currently having.  2.7 children would be ideal according to the World Values Survey – they just say that they can’t afford them. 

Researcher Derek Miedema points to more expensive housing, education and tax costs, along with the idea people have of how hugely expensive it is to raise each child over his or her lifetime.  With regard to the latter, it is important to remember the economies of scale that come with second and third children when considering such reported costs.  For example, second and third children can use the same pushchair, cot, toys, clothes, front-pack.  Day-to-day they use the same lights, heaters – even bath water.

Canada also follows world trends of delayed childbirth.  In 2010, for the first time, the fertility rate was higher for women aged 35 to 39 than for those aged 20 to 24.  The new figures show that this gap widened even further in 2011.  This is interesting considering how low women’s natural fertility is between the ages of 35 – 39 compared to between 20 – 24.

I was talking to my nana this week who raised her five children in a rather small house.  She is one of the most positive people I know and always seems so happy.  Despite that, she has never been a wealthy woman.  She hasn’t worked since she had her babies and was telling me on the weekend about the delight of squishing around the family dinner table and what a blessing her children were.  It struck me that I expect a lot more and in many ways have much more expensive tastes than she ever had when her children were growing up – yet she seems a lot happier than many people I know.  Perhaps Canadians, along with most of the western world, should take note.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...