Canada sees record-low fertility rates same year as record-breaking immigration levels

Shelby Thevenot
Published: November 2, 2020

Canada saw a record low fertility rate last year, according to new Statistics Canada data.

Canada's low fertility rate is a major reason why Canada announced on Friday a historic Immigration Levels Plan 2021-2023 that will see it now target over 400,000 new immigrant admissions per year.

The total fertility rate in 2019 was 1.47 birth per woman over the course of her reproductive life. Populations need at birth rate of at least 2.1 births per woman, but Canada has not met this threshold since 1971. This means that the number of babies being born is not enough for the current population to replace itself.

There were 372,038 live births in Canada last year, excluding Yukon. The proportion of baby boys was slightly higher at about 51.3 per cent, which is consistent with previous years.

Whether or not the pandemic caused a baby slump in Canada will be more evident in the summer of 2021, in the months of July and August when birth rates are typically highest.

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"With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is possible that birth rates may have changed," the report said, "In addition, if immigration levels were to fall, fertility rates would become more important for population growth to be sustained."

Immigration responsible for 78% to 79% of population growth in 2019

When looking at the period between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019, the natural increase in population was 85, 246. The population increase do to migration was 301,974 when adding new immigrants, and returning emigrants and subtracting emigrants. The total population growth when adding these sums together makes 387,220.

In this time period, immigration was responsible for 78 per cent of population growth. In the period between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020, immigration was responsible for 79 per cent of population growth.

Without immigration, Canada cannot continue to grow its population, and the labour force will weaken with less workers. Canada’s 9 million baby boomers are expected to reach retirement age in just 10 years. The Conference Board of Canada says immigrants will account for 100 per cent of the national population growth by 2034. In the early months of 2020, immigration already accounted for 82 per cent of Canada’s population growth.

This research was cited in the federal government's Immigration Levels Plan 2021-2023 announcement.

Age of first-time mothers increases

Last year, the average age of first-time mothers was 29.4, six years older than the average age of first-time mothers in 1959, which was 23.2.

This trend is common in other countries, including the U.S. It coincides with the increased number of women in the labour force who are between the ages of 25 and 54, as well as the rise in university-educated women. The percentage of women in the workforce increased from 22 per cent in 1950 to 84 per cent in 2019, according to Labour Force Survey data. The proportion of women with a university degree nearly tripled from 14 per cent in 1990 to 40 per cent in 2019.

The distribution of birth by the mother's age has also changed over the last 60 years. Fertility rates among women under age 25 have decreased significantly. In 1959, women between ages 20 to 24 were most likely to have children (233,8 births per 1,000 women), and by 2019 the fertility rate for this group dropped to 31.8 births per 1,000 women. In 1959, 45 per cent of women in this age group gave birth for the first time, whereas in 2019 it was 14 per cent.

In 2019, women ages 30 to 34 were more likely to have babies than women of any other age group, and represented the greatest percentage of first-time mothers.

Older mothers more likely to have twins or triplets

Older first-time mothers were more than twice as likely to have twins, triplets, or more than younger women. In 2019, 4.3 per cent of first-time mothers age 40 or older had multiple births compared with less than 1.6 per cent of first-time mothers under 40.

"One of the explanations for this difference relates to the fact that older women have higher levels of naturally occurring follicle-stimulating hormone, which stimulate ovulation and increase the possibility of multiple eggs being released," Statistics Canada says.

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