For the last 22 years, I have been a senior immigration official and immigration consultant. In that time, I have seen successive governments steadily and sharply increase the numbers of immigrants being brought into Canada from about 120,000 in the 1990s, to over 400,000 per year in the 2020s. The obvious rationale for this is to counteract our declining birth rate – which is now well below replacement levels. Without immigration, our population, particularly of working age people, would start to decline quickly. This would impact our workforce, our schools, economy, care-homes, pension plans, military, and on and on and on.
Of note, no developed country in the world now has a fertility rate of 2.1 children per woman, which is the generally accepted replacement level. Having said that, at 1.47 children per woman, Canada is decidedly below the USA at 1.7, the UK at 1.65 and France at 1.87. What is even more interesting is that Canada brings in more immigrants per capita than any country in the world, often from locations which have high fertility rates – yet even immigrants quickly copy Canadian lifestyle and choose not to have many children.
We are now, effectively contracting out our population stability and growth to other countries. The largest source countries, India (2.2), the Philippines (2.5) and China (1.7) are all seeing sharp declines in their fertility rates. Historically, we have obtained large numbers of immigrants from Germany, (1.5), Russia (1.5), Japan (1.4) and South Korea (0.86), but these countries are all now well below replacement fertility. Over time, Canada will have to look towards a broader and broader base of potential immigrants as fewer and fewer countries will produce the skilled workers that Canada has historically recruited.
Canada remains a large country with a small population. It is vital to maintain and to grow our population. Is immigration the only way we can now do this – or are their economic and social policies that impact fertility rates that might be addressed?
Women and men are having children later and later in life, and fewer and fewer of them. Household size continues to shrink decade after decade. Some of reasons are likely financial. Families need to have a certain amount of money to be able to afford to have children. The cost of raising a child has risen – which means that families generally delay having children until they are in a financial position to be able to afford them. Delaying a family usually equates to smaller families.
House price increase have gone through the roof, particularly in the kinds of houses that families tend to prefer. The Canadian dream, of most native born and immigrants to Canada, is to have a house in the suburbs to raise a family. Houses in good suburbs, near good schools, are now the most expensive and hardest to afford for a family.
Young families likely have the highest financial needs of any group in our population, and two incomes is often the only way families can afford to buy the coveted family home. The argument for subsidizing daycares, rather than subsidizing families with children, is that access to affordable daycare encourages women to return to the workforce, thereby increasing the size of the Canadian labour pool. The offsetting argument is that by subsidizing daycares, and not families, clearly leads to reduction in family sizes.
Social and economic policies and norms that devalue mothers have had a profound negative impact on fertility. This can be things like subsidizing daycare – not mothers – celebrating the term “working women” while we refer to mothers as “just a housewife”. The more we are prejudice against mothers – the fewer women will sacrifice themselves to be mothers.
Women who sacrifice their lives and bodies to be mothers, need to be celebrating and valued. Modern western societies, like Canada, have made enormous strides in gender equality. To some extent, this has been at the expense of a fertility rates that are now unsustainable. Most of us believe that these changes have been for the better and have allowed women to take a fuller and more equal place in our society. The issue that needs to be raised now, is can we find a way to retain the fantastic progress we have made in women’s rights, at the same time see fertility rates rise to at least replacement levels. Or are we destined to outsource our fertility to other less developed countries, in order to keep and grow our population.
This is an issue that needs to be discussed – primarily by women. Do they think that fertility rates are too low in Canada, and if so, what are the issues that they see as impediments to them having more children?
Randy Boldt is an immigration consultant and also a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash.