Why birth rates are low in Canada and much of the Western world

Vimal Sivakumar
Published: February 8, 2023

Birth rates are low in much of the western world.

For instance, in the United States of America, “the [national] birth rate has fallen by 20%” over the last 15 years. Elsewhere, Greece has seen a 30% decline in births since 2008.

Canada is in a similar situation. Canada’s fertility rate currently falls short of the global population replacement level, which stands at 2.1 births per woman. Following a steadily declining trend that has continued since 2009, Canada’s fertility rate hit a record low of 1.4 children per woman in 2020. In 2020, Canada also experienced the country’s lowest number of births in 15 years, also seeing the largest annual drop in childbirths (-3.6%) in a quarter of a century.

Why has the birth rate declined in Western countries?

Declining birth rates cannot be firmly attributed to any single factor, as the reason for having or not having a child/children is individual to the child-bearer. However, a few trends in the Western world have been said to have a potent impact on the reduced number of children being born.

Raising children is becoming more expensive

Everything costs money, and raising a child is no different. For the first 18 years of a child’s life, parents are required to provide the necessities for their offspring, all the while paying for education and other key services that their child needs to grow up living a prosperous childhood.

Consequently, as the cost of raising a child continues to rise – reportedly requiring a middle-income married family with two children in the U.S. to spend over $26,000 more, compared to 2017, “to raise a child to the age of 17” — fewer people are opting to have children and birth rates across the Western world are declining.

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Note: In Canada, the cost of raising a child to the age of 18 has risen by 11% (roughly $27,000) since 2015

Women are more educated

Over the past 40 years, women in the Western world have had higher levels of education than previous generations. Accordingly, Western women are becoming more socially empowered, and this increased empowerment has caused fertility rates to start trending downward.

COVID-related economic uncertainty

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a potent source of economic worry for many people around the world and the economic uncertainty that has arisen as a product of the pandemic has altered childbirth-related intentions for many in the West.

In Canada, for example, Statistics Canada released a report in December 2021 that revealed many Canadians aged 15 to 49 have had a change of heart regarding their plans to have children because of the pandemic.

According to the report, 14.3% of participants responded “true” to a statement that read “I now want to have a baby later than I previously planned”. Additionally, another 10.9% of survey respondents responded “true” to the following statement: “I now want to have fewer children than I previously planned.”

Result: What has come of Canada’s low birth rate?

From a Canadian perspective, a lower birth rate has contributed directly to the rise of immigration in this country, largely out of the necessity to support population and labour force growth, along with economic development.

Low fertility rates have been a contributor to a reduction in the national population workforce, as there are fewer children being born to replace aging members of Canada’s population — both generally and those within the labour force in this country. Appropriately, immigration has been relied on to combat this decline, a strategy that has been working in Canada’s favour to date.

In fact, almost four-fifths of Canada’s population growth between 2016 and 2021 (+1.8 million) was a result of incoming temporary and/or permanent residents coming to Canada. Moreover, this population growth has allowed Canada’s labour force to grow and prosper, as Canadian immigrants have also been the source of 79.9% of workforce growth in this country over the same five-year period. Finally, economic development in this country has been driven by population growth that is largely attributable to immigration. With more people in Canada thanks to heightened immigration, there are more people that will pay taxes to the government. Ultimately, this will contribute to the resources and available pool of money that the government can use to deliver key services and benefits back to the people of Canada, allowing for increased growth and economic development across the country.

All told, the above-outlined reasons for immigration growth have created a country where immigrants make up 23% of Canada’s total population (as of 2021). What’s more is that this number is projected to fall somewhere between 29.1% and 34% by 2041 if current national demographic trends, including low fertility rates, continue throughout this country.

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