Canada: An aging country with few kids

October 18, 2010

Canada has been diminished because of its declining birth rate.


OTTAWA – Canadian families continue to shrink says a study from the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC), so policy-makers must help them prepare for harder economic times.

"The country is rapidly aging with a birthrate of 1.6 children per women, well below the 2.1 level needed for replacement," writes IMFC senior researcher Peter John Mitchell in the executive summary of a study released in late September.

"As a result, Canada will face economic challenges including a growing strain on government funded entitlements such as pensions and health care."

Canada is not alone in this demographic crunch, the study says. Around the world, governments have tried to use economic incentives to raise fertility rates, or increased immigration levels, but neither approach has brought long-term solutions, the study argues.

The study looks at the reasons why women are having fewer children. A shift in values and an increase in autonomy explain some of the decline in birth rate, but economic factors have also played a role, it says.

"In the past, children were economic assets, providing labour on the family farm," Mitchell writes, noting higher mortality rates also played a role in more births.

"Today, the expense of raising children is likely to be a deterrent," he wrote.


The need for higher education and greater participation by women in the workforce has many women delaying childbearing until they have established their careers, the study says.

As the number of cohabiting couples rises, these family changes also have an impact. "It stands to reason that relationships that are less stable provide less opportunity for childbearing," the study says.

The wide use of contraception, particularly the birth control pill have also contributed to falling fertility rates. Abortion is also a significant factor, the study says.

Not all families are small, the study says, and religious commitment to one of the major religions correlates with larger family size. Women who attend weekly religious services are "50 per cent more likely to have a third child," the study says.


Women who had their first child before the age of 25 were also more likely to have a third child.

While immigration can "offset" lower fertility, it does little to address long-term fertility rates, the study argues. Government attempts to provide economic incentives have bumped up birth rates in some countries like Sweden or provinces like Quebec, but not to replacement levels.

The study advises several policy options for meeting the challenges. One option is to encourage a culture of marriage in Canada. "The breakdown of marriage contributes to lower fertility, but it also costs taxpayers an estimated seven billion dollars a year," it says.

It also advises teaching Canadian families to save and to plan for their long-term futures.

The study can be read at