The Current

Cost-of-living crisis means more Canadians are putting parenthood on pause

A growing number of Canadians are delaying parenthood or choosing not to have children at a time when Canada's fertility rate is at an all-time low.

The only way we can have children now is if ‘we win the lottery,’ says Vancouver resident

A man's arms are seen wrapped around a newborn baby swaddled in a white blanket with pink and blue stripes.
A growing number of Canadians are delaying parenthood or choosing not to have children at a time when Canada's fertility rate is at an all-time low. (Marta Iwanek/The Canadian Press)

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For 29-year-old Asia Ruuhala-Guzman, there's only one way she and her partner can afford to have kids any time soon.

"We win the lottery and we just have all this income and all this money at our disposal to afford a bigger place, to afford daycare and all of the things," she told The Current.

Ruuhala-Guzman said she and her partner, also 29, want to have children and feel ready to raise kids. They make a combined $180,000 per year, which the couple acknowledges is a respectable household income. 

But the pair resides in Vancouver, one of the most expensive cities in Canada. They're currently renting a one-bedroom apartment for $2,700 a month. And if they welcome a child into their lives now, Ruuhala-Guzman says they'll need to rent a bigger home that'll likely cost between $3,500 and $4,000 per month.

She said those additional costs, coupled with increasing expenses for daycare, food and clothes, make raising kids feel "very tough" — so they're holding off for now. 

"All this stuff costs money, So, it's not just going to come out of thin air," she said.

A grandmother holds the hand of their three-day-old grandchild.
A dwindling fertility rate could exacerbate Canada's challenges with an aging population, impacting pension support and even health-care costs, according to demographer Don Kerr. (Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images)

It's a difficult decision to make, and it's one many young Canadian couples are having to face.

Research from Statistics Canada shows that, in 2022, 38 per cent of young adults ages 20 to 29 didn't think they could afford to have a child in the next three years; 32 per cent did not believe they would have access to suitable housing to start a family in that time frame.

This translated into Canadians having fewer babies than any other year since 2005. Just 351,679 babies were born in Canada in 2022, the latest year in the dataset.

"I think it's a much more complicated decision-making process for young Canadians now than it has been in the past," said Karen Lawson, head of the University of Saskatchewan's Department of Psychology and Health Studies.

"The financial costs are higher. The perceived rewards may be fewer. Parenting itself has changed, become more intensive and all consuming."

Lawson studies reproductive decision-making, and in 2022, she conducted a national survey of 1,000 Canadians from the ages of 18 to 35 about their plans around having kids. Her findings haven't been published yet, but they were presented at a conference in Switzerland in September.

What she found was that 25 per cent of those surveyed had decided to wait until they were at least the age of 35 to have kids, mostly because of the cost.

"It was clear that they definitely wanted children, but right now wasn't the right time for them," she said. 

Another one-third of respondents said they didn't want to have children ever. She said those individuals had "undergone a cost-benefit analysis and … made a conscious decision that parenting isn't for them."

A growing fertility gap

But as the financial costs dissuade more young Canadians from having children, Canada is falling deeper into what's called a "fertility gap."

"The biological constraints on female fertility means that delaying also has the potential repercussion of women … [having] fewer children than they initially wanted," Lawson said.

"That's because they're trying to have their children within a shorter reproductive window — and of course, the fertility complications that come with age as well."

Newborn babies in a perinatal centre in Moscow.
As the country's fertility rate dwindles, Canada is close to joining a small group of countries with fertility rates lower than 1.3 kids per woman. (Denis Sinyakov/Reuters)

This is having a significant impact on Canada's fertility rate. Currently, it's at a record-low of 1.33 kids per woman, down from 1.69 kids in 2009.

That concerns experts like Don Kerr, a demographer at King's College at Western University, who told The Current fertility rates are at an all-time low in eight of 10 provinces

He said Canada is now close to joining a small group of countries with fertility rates lower than 1.3 kids per woman. This is well below the benchmark of 2.1 children per woman, also known as the no-migration population replacement level. That's how many babies must be born each year to replace people who die, without relying on immigration.

However, Canada's immigration rate is at an all-time high, so the population isn't declining. 

But Kerr says Canada shouldn't rely on immigration to address sinking fertility rates because new Canadians face the same financial costs that deter those born here from having kids.

"As new entrants into the labour force, it often involves a bit of sacrifice, and quite often you'll have young adults come into Canada and no, they're not having kids," he said. 

"They're putting it off like other… Canadian couples. They're putting it off until economic circumstances improve."

Kerr says a dwindling fertility rate could exacerbate Canada's challenges with an aging population, impacting pension support — the ratio of retirees to workers — and even health-care costs. 

WATCH: Affordability challenges will persist even with federal support: financial planner

Affordability challenges will persist even with more federal support: financial planner

3 months ago
Duration 1:55
Murray Baker from Family Services of Greater Vancouver tells BC Today host Lien Yeung it will take time to see the effects of federal supports outlined in the fall economic statement — so consumers in Canada can expect "more pain" when it comes to cost of living and housing challenges.

Working as a community

There have been ongoing discussions around whether governments should financially incentivize Canadians to have kids. But Lawson says that history shows tax credits and housing subsidies have, at best, a slight short-term impact.

All provinces have signed on to the federal government's $10-a-day daycare program, which was created in 2021. But access isn't universal and it's too soon to say whether affordable childcare could make a difference.

In her research, Lawson also found that some respondents talked about making educational institutions and practices more parent-friendly.

"They talked about supports that would help young people be able to balance childrearing with other important aspects of their life that they find rewarding," she said.

"As a society, we may need to examine other ways that we can support young people who want children."

In the short-term though, putting parenthood on hold is an upsetting reality for young adults like Ruuhala-Guzman.

But, she says she finds comfort in knowing there are many others in the same boat.

"So many women like us are in the exact same position," she said. "I have conversations with my girlfriends as well. We're not alone."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mouhamad Rachini is a Canadian-Lebanese writer and producer for CBC Radio's digital team. He's worked for several CBC Radio shows including The Current, Day 6 and Cross Country Checkup. He's particularly passionate about stories from Muslim and Middle Eastern communities. He also writes about soccer on his website Between the Sticks. You can reach him at mouhamad.rachini@cbc.ca.

Produced by Kate Cornick.

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