Immigration policymakers and analysts monitor fertility as it is a factor in long-term immigration planning. Any pandemic-related baby slump will be felt in Canada’s labour market in about 25 years’ time since that is how long it generally takes for Canadian-born workers to enter the labour market.
Canada’s low fertility rate is often used as an economic justification for increasing immigration levels. The logic is that the birth rate is not high enough to grow Canada’s population and labour force. Economic immigration is seen as a solution to this problem, as Canada’s labour force would dwindle if there were no new workers to replace the retired ones. The result would affect Canada’s GDP and competitiveness on the world stage.
Statistics Canada came out with a new study on how the pandemic has affected fertility in Canada. Similar to several other countries, Canada saw its lowest number of births last year, as well as its greatest decrease in year-over-year births since 2006.
Canada’s fertility decreased to a record low of 1.4 children per woman in 2020. Although these data suggest that the pandemic had an overall negative impact on childbearing in Canada, researchers say it is not the whole story. Given that Canada’s birth rate has been steadily declining since 2008, it could be argued that the lower fertility rate in 2020 was the continuation of a long-standing trend.
The indicators in this study cannot determine the magnitude or duration of the pandemic’s impact on fertility. However, the study notes that should fertility continue to decline in the coming years, it could put Canada in the “lowest-low” fertility countries. Such a situation is associated with rapid population aging and increased stress on the labour market, public health care, and pension systems.
About a quarter of the population between the ages 15 and 49 have changed their plans to have children because of the pandemic. Nearly 20% said they want to have fewer children than previously planned, or else delay their plans. Only 4% said they want to have more children or have a baby sooner.
It was more common for people to want to delay having children than to not have children at all due to the pandemic. The study says this finding is significant because the average age of new Canadian mothers is 31. Therefore, delaying could lead some women to not have as many children as they planned due to the biological limits of childbearing.
Non-parents were twice as likely to want fewer children or delay having babies compared to those who were already parents.
People who are considered visible minorities were more likely to want fewer children or to have them later. This finding is consistent with a previous study done in the U.S. It may reflect the fact that visible minorities have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, whether through unemployment, financial difficulties or COVID-19 mortality rates.
Unlike in the U.S. study, however, Canadian immigration status did not seem to have much effect on the likelihood of changing fertility intentions.
The study suggests that since most Canadians reported a desire to postpone having children rather than to have fewer children, it could mean that the pandemic may not have a big impact on fertility in the future. That is, provided couples actually do have babies at a later date.
Overall, it remains to be seen whether Canada’s fertility rate will bounce back or continue on its declining trend. The desire to delay births could still impact Canadian society. If Canadians do end up having fewer babies, in the short term it could lower enrollment in daycares and schools, and in the long term, it could bring forth challenges on public pension systems and labour force availability.
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