The birth rate of Canadian women has undergone a dramatic change since the turn of the century, declining among women under 30 and growing for those in older age groups, according to a brief report published on Thursday by a Calgary economist.
Data in Canada's statistics from 2000 to 2017 show that the birth rate of women under 30 years of age has declined in every province and territory, except for women in New Brunswick aged 25-29, says Ron Knaibone of the Public Policy School of Calgary.
At the same time, birth rates – measured as births per 1,000 women – have increased in each province and territory for women aged 30 and over, with the exception of women in Nunavut aged 35 to 39.
"Younger women have fewer and older women have more," said Kneebone, adding that the shift is quite large despite the short period of time.
For example, the birth rate of young people aged 15 to 19 has fallen by half in most jurisdictions, while for women aged 35 to 39 it has generally grown by more than 60%.
"I suppose one of the biggest messages of the article is that public policy decisions … can have a real impact on fertility decisions," he said, as examples of spending and the availability of day care, housing, fertility and parental leave.
"All of these things will affect the family's decision whether to have a child or delay having children," he said.
Kneebone says that the relatively low birth rates for women aged 20-29 in Ontario and British Columbia where housing costs are particularly high also indicate the link between public policy and women's fertility decisions.
"To really break the causal link of these things, you have to do a lot of work, but these results suggest that they are actually influences," he said.
"But these are things we need to be aware of because the consequences are enormous, and if women slow down to having children, it creates a demographic bulge that moves through the economy over the next 40, 50, 60. Some important effects.
Kneebone also notes that the birth rate is usually higher among women of the indigenous population, which explains why there are much higher total values in the northwest and Nunavut, which have a large indigenous population. (The latest data was not available for Yukon.)
The Impact of Sexual Education
Kneebone says the decline in birth rates among 15- to 19-year-olds seems to be due to the greater spread of sex education in schools.
"There are studies that certainly support the idea that more and better sex education has an effect on fertility," he said.
Kneebone says that the trend for women who have babies in their 30s and not the 20s is probably also a reflection that women graduate higher levels of education to compete for better paid jobs, which is good for the workforce and the economy.
"As a society, we have to make decisions whether we want to encourage early fertility or later fertility, have children sooner or later, and there are both pros and cons of both things," he said.
"It is probably good for the public that we can now take advantage of or use the skills of the female population more than we could before."