Opinion

Canada's fertility rate declines — again

Today's Parent deputy editor Leah Rumack responds to a Statistics Canada report about Canada's declining fertility rate.

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Leah and Ben in their “luxury” car.

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I’d like to apologize to Canada. I’m a fertility failure, and I’m now officially one of those anti-patriots who isn’t living up to the minimum 2.1 children per woman that’s needed to maintain the economic health of this country. My two-and-a-half year old Ben is going to be stuck all alone with his boring parents for the rest of his life. I’m part of the problem, not part of the solution.

On Tuesday, StatsCan reported that that the total fertility rate in Canada has declined for the third year in a row, falling to just 1.61 kids per woman in 2011. And we haven’t met the population replacement level of 2.1 children per woman since 1971. The math is simple. Fewer babies = fewer future taxpayers. Fewer future taxpayers equals a less robust social safety net, which is bad news for everyone.

But you know how they say you have to spend money to make money? I’m going to guess that in addition to the obvious trend of delayed childbearing (I had Ben when I was 37), the reason a lot of people are having fewer children is the math. It’s just too expensive!

Read more: Can you afford another baby? >

After I had Ben, with my biological clock booming loudly in my ears, my thoughts quickly turned to churning out number two. I’d always wanted two kids. My husband, Jason, said he was happy with one.

“If we won the lottery tomorrow, would you want a second?” I probed.

He confessed that the cost was a big part of what was holding him back. And as I spend the last precious years of my waning fertility pondering those things that women ponder, like what should I make for dinner and should I “accidentally” get pregnant anyways, the financial reality on the other side of the “ooops” always ultimately convinced me otherwise. Right now, it’s a second mortgage in daycare that’s killing us. Later it will be hockey, and post-secondary education. Plus there’s all that boring feeding and clothing them business. Oh yes, and when old people procreate and then they’re walloped with the cost of childcare, they don’t really have anything extra to put aside for their retirement. And then they have only one kid to support them in their old age. This is terrible social planning all around!

The thing is, nationally speaking, we’re by no means broke. While we don’t live extravagantly, we have a comfortable life. We both have full-time real grownup jobs (with passcards for air conditioned offices and everything!), own our small house (well, we own a large mortgage for our small house at least), and in terms of bistros and organic milk consumption, I’m a walking Stuff White People Like cliche. If we had a second kid, we wouldn’t have a bedroom to put it in, and we’d have to use our line of credit to pay for daycare, but it’s unlikely we’d go hungry and we’d still have a roof over our heads, which is a lot more than many families can say. But I knew if we had a second child, our marriage would be constantly strained by financial worries, and there’s nothing that spells future poverty and hard on kids like D.I.V.O.R.C.E.

A national childcare policy would have helped. If there were heavily subsidized daycare for everyone, I’m pretty sure I could have talked Jason into a second. There’s lots of other ways progressive countries can (financially, at least) encourage more children too — tax breaks, more generous maternity leave payments and better support for post secondary education, to name a few.

I’m sad that Ben will be an only child. I’m sad that I couldn’t do my demographic duty for my country. But I’m not sad I can still afford groceries. Frankly Canada, if you needed me to have more kids, you should have tried a little harder to help me do it.