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Canadian report shows birth rates keep declining. What to know about causes, impact

One couple from Halifax opened up about health and financial issues that led to a "hard" decision.

Fertility rates have been declining inBirth rates have been declining in Canada over the past five decades. Here's why. (Canva) Canada over the past five decades. Here's why. (Canva)
Birth rates have been declining in Canada over the past five decades. Here's why. (Canva)

Birth rates across Canada are the lowest they've been in 17 years, a recent report has revealed.

This phenomenon is part of a larger pattern where fertility rates have decreased over the past five decades. According to an expert, this will lead to a rapidly aging population — a source of concern in Canada.

The Statistics Canada report released on Sept. 26 shows a gradual but moderate drop of 2.8 per cent in the number of births from 2016 to 2019. In 2020, there was a steeper decline, with births falling by 3.3 per cent. After a 2.6 per cent uptick in 2021, births dropped by 5 per cent in 2022.

Kate Choi, an associate professor of sociology at Western University, explained while the decline is consistent with patterns in the United States along with many countries in Europe and East Asia, the recent drop in numbers was surprising.

"The magnitude of the recent fertility decline particularly after the pandemic was larger than what we'd expect," Choi said.

But why are Canadians having fewer or no children? Read on for everything you need to know.

Why a family chose to have just one child

Sean and Stephanie Norman decided to stop having kids after having their son River. (Submitted)
Sean and Stephanie Norman decided to stop having kids after having their son River. (Submitted)

A Halifax couple told Yahoo Canada they delayed their pregnancy — and eventually chose to stop after one child — due to health and financial reasons.

Stephanie Norman, an instructional designer and owner of Halifax Mermaids, opened up about her struggle with endometriosis and fertility issues.

"Accessing timely and appropriate treatment in Nova Scotia has been a total nightmare, long before the pandemic. The pandemic simply made it worse," claimed Norman.

"We gave up on having kids and focused on our side business. But 14 years into the relationship, during COVID and after many miscarriages, we found ourselves unexpectedly successfully pregnant," she added.

Norman said her child, River, came along in 2021 when she was 35 years old and her husband, Sean, was age 43, which she felt made them old to be first-time parents. But, they're "very happy" after an "extremely difficult" pregnancy.

"I had an emergency C-section during COVID, and due to some sort of mixup at the hospital I was discharged with low hemoglobin," Norman explained. "It was a terrifying experience of truly being close to death."

Stephanie Norman had her only child at age 35. (Submitted)
Stephanie Norman had her only child at age 35. (Submitted)

Norman said her experience at the hospital, amidst the medical system being as taxed as it is, made her fear having another child would put her health and that of the child at risk.

"The other big factor for us is the current state of the economy. We got a little trapped in our apartment during the pandemic. The rents sky rocketed, along with housing costs," said Norman.

"We have money set aside for a down payment for a house and have been looking for years ... but nothing fits in our budget."

If we had a second child, we simply wouldn't have the space for them if we stayed in Nova Scotia.Stephanie Norman

Norman added all of her family and friends are in the province and they couldn't get the same level of support if they were to move.

"With the daycare crisis, we couldn't find care when my maternity leave finished. I had no choice but to work full time from home while caring for my son, for an entire year," the mom explained.

"With the current economy, we also didn't feel like we could give up our small business. So we simply adapted and brought our son along with us. That's not something we could do again."

Stephanie Norman posing as a mermaid for her local business as River and husband Sean watch her perform.
Stephanie and Sean Norman say they couldn't afford to have a second child if they wanted to. (Submitted)

The focus right now, Norman said, is to give their son a good life.

"As much as it's hard for me to give up the idea of a larger family, we have to make that decision to ensure we can take care of the child we have and give him the best life possible. I think there are so many people like us, especially in N.S.," said Norman.

We have to make that decision to ensure we can take care of the child we have and give him the best life possible.Stephanie Norman

Some Canadians, however, simply don't want to have children for personal reasons.

Retired 68-year-old Toronto resident, Paul Lima, says he understands why people would choose to have one child or none given the current state of the world. But sometimes, the reasons are beyond those generally discussed by experts.

In his case, it was entirely psychological, which led him to have a vasectomy in his late 20s.

"The doctor said to me, 'You should go talk to a psychologist before getting the vasectomy.' But I said, 'I have no need to talk to one. I know I do not want a child,'" Lima recalled. "I do not want a child to feel about me the way I feel about my father. I was afraid I would be a bad father."

He did become a dad though, after marrying his wife who already had a child, whom Lima loves and cherishes.

"I understand if people don't want kids or if they want kids. I don't judge anybody," Lima said. "I guess I've been on both sides of the fence not wanting them and then having a child who I really love. So, things can change."

What are the factors behind the decline?

Fertility decline concept. Depopulation, demographic crisis. Baby bottles in the form of graph and down arrow. 3d illustration.
A decline in births could mean an impact on Canada's workforce and healthcare costs. (Getty)

Expert Kate Choi blamed the general decline of fertility in Canada on a number of factors, including the country's high cost of living and limited access to higher quality child care.

"There's a lot of prior work that suggests when housing prices are high and there's rapid increases in rental prices ... you actually see patterns where people are going to delay (having kids) and there's some individuals who are eventually going to forgo fertility," she explained.

The consequences could mean an impact on Canada's workforce and health care costs.

"It's problematic for two reasons. The first reason is in the future when the cohort of children that are being born become of age, there will not be sufficient workers to be able to fill the labour shortages," Choi said, adding this can also be exacerbated in the absence of immigration.

The other reason is there will be a rapid rise in health care costs, particularly those associated with caring for older adults.

"In the future, there will be an expansion in the caregiving needs of the population overall," Choi said.

In order to tackle the decline in fertility, Choi said young Canadian families need to have access to affordable housing and quality child care. "It is very important for policymakers to design interventions that allow young families access to these resources."

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