Canadian families are shrinking as fewer children are being born than in previous decades. The average family size has declined from 3.7 members in 1971 to 3.0 in 2006. A number of factors have influenced declining fertility among Canadians including the changing nature of the economy. Canada has moved from an agrarian society to a post industrial age in which children are less an economic benefit and more of a hefty expenditure. The need for increased educational attainment to compete in today’s labour market has led to delayed marriage and postponed parenthood.
Other factors contribute to low fertility including a rise in cohabitation and the prevalence of divorce. Increased access to reliable birth control has influenced how Canadians approach fertility and abortion has contributed to lower fertility rates.
Fertility is a personal matter with larger implications for Canadian society. The country is rapidly aging with a birthrate of 1.6 children per woman, well below the 2.1 level needed for replacement. As a result, Canada will face economic challenges including a growing strain on government funded entitlements such as pensions and health care.
Countries around the world have responded to the shifting demographics by increasing immigration, offering incentives to coax higher fertility and by cutting social spending. Neither immigration nor economic incentives have delivered long-term solutions. Whether the government can increase fertility or should even attempt to, is a worthy question for Canadians to ask.
Policymakers need to respond to the demographic shift and the future impact it will have on Canadians. Acknowledging there are no easy solutions, this report offers three alternative policy options for discussion. Policymakers should:
- Encourage Canadians to prepare for the future, planning for long term fiscal, housing and health care needs. Resources for future seniors may not be as readily available. Families need to plan together and discuss desires and expectations.
- Encourage families to save and reduce personal debt. Families must prepare for a future with smaller government provided entitlements. The burden will fall more squarely on individuals themselves.
- Encourage a culture that values marriage. A strong marriage culture can contribute to fertility growth. Marriage remains the best institution for developing citizens whose productivity will be increasingly important in an aging society. This begins with the recognition of the importance of marriage.
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