Calgary mom Lizeth Alfaro was 31 when she gave birth to her first and only child. Her biggest concern about building her family was balancing her son’s needs and paying off hers and her partner’s student debt. Like Alfaro, many Canadians are limiting their family size over to financial concerns. In an ideal world, Alfaro said she would like to try for a daughter and would happily embrace a larger family, but things aren’t how they used to be when large families were the norm.
“Realistically I know I could not handle more than the one we have,” says Alfaro in an email.
Times have changed for Canadian women over the last 60 years, and so has family planning since the peak of the baby boom in 1959. During the peak of fertility rates in Canada, women were having an average of 3.94 children per family. This has dropped to 1.61 children per family as of 2011.
President of Population Institute Canada Madeline Weld says, “In the long-term, a population would be stable if each woman had two children. The number usually given is 2.1 children per woman to compensate for the fact that some people will not have children.”
At age 27, Jennifer Lynn Pichach knew she was ready to have children. She waited until she had a stable income, a stable relationship and owned a house in a good school zone. Despite all of these elements coming together, Pichach feels the financial weight of dental bills and children’s activities.
“I want each one of my children to try like everything,” says the a mother of three in an email. “But I am noticing that there isn’t that much time before they are grown up and it all ends up costing a lot.”
In email correspondence, Windsor mom Jordan Morrrish says that her largest barrier keeping her from her desired family size is strictly financial. “My boyfriend and I both love the idea of big families. But realistically, even making decent money between the two of us, half the time we feel crunched for finances.”
Morrish is a mother of one with another child on the way. “Unfortunately the more ahead times get, the more bigger families become almost impossible. If I could choose, I’d have 3-4 kids and be a stay at home mom, or work from home for a decent enough income just to help out,” she said. “But our society doesn’t really make things affordable enough to do things like that anymore. Which personally I find sad, because I know I would rather me raise my children than them spend their lives at a daycare.”
While it may be difficult for single-income household families to financially support their children, the alternative option of daycare also doesn’t fare well for parents on a tight budget. According to a 2016 article by Huffington Post, childcare can cost an average of $12,000 per year between late pick-up fees and food plans costs.
Win Harwood, a Windsor parenting educator, sees both a financial and cultural change in the way modern moms must coordinate their family plans.
“I think the whole emphasis on a two income household, equality and having a good job has changed. In the 70s after the pill came out, you still had the option to stay home. But that’s not an option now,” says Harwood.
In her experience, Hardwood notices a lot of people are waiting until after post-secondary education to have children, but sometimes it is too late. Unlike men, women tend to seek a partner that is equal to them in the workplace and this can make it hard for women in their 30s to start a family.
“My career goals are the reason I’m not able to consider being a stay at home mom or work part time. I am a supply teacher so I’d like to keep my foot in the door. If I pull away from the career for a few years it will be very difficult to step back in,” says Christine Taylor, mother of three. “We’ve done our best to not let that play a role in the number of children we have but with how busy it gets it has likely limited our family to the size it is now.”
Knowing the history of infertility in her and her partner’s families, Taylor started her family at age 21.
“A lot of it is because of infertility, people can’t have children late,” warns Harwood.
Win Harwood says the demand for fertility clinics is growing but the cost of fertility treatments are a large obstacle and are a huge risk if the treatment doesn’t work.
I had a client that mortgaged their house to get in-vitro and then didn’t get pregnant – Harwood
Some women may be eligible for funding from the Ontario government to assist with cost of treatment. However, patients are expected to pay for the medication out of pocket. In-virto fertilization medication can cost up to $5,000 per cycle. Some insurance may cover part of cost.
“Up until now, there has been no financial help,” says Harwood.
Some parents such as Calgary mom, Kelsea Milne, have a small family by choice. “We have two [children]and feel as though our family is complete. If we wanted more, however, the financial aspect would be a factor that could limit this,” says Milne in an email.
All of the factors that cause lower fertility rates such as finances, infertility and choice should suggest a declining population. However, immigration rates contributed to over half of Canada’s population in 2011.
Canada has been taking a quarter-million immigrants each year, according to Weld. But she doesn’t believe Canada needs a continually growing population for economic well-being.
“Canada’s growth has put stresses not only on our natural resources, but also on our social institutions like hospitals and infrastructure like roads,” she said through email correspondence.
Immigration contributes to the incline of our population as Canadian family sizes decrease. Canada’s population is already experiencing a surplus of seniors as the baby-boom generation reaches their golden years. The immigration of adults and seniors adds further stress to the healthcare system.
“I think what we need to be doing is looking at communities that are friendly to seniors,” says Philippa Von Ziegenweidt, a member on Windsor’s Citizens for an Accountable Megahospital Planning Process council. “Some of the infrastructure that we need is a good public transit system, not just within the city but also to get out to the country and for the county people to get into the city.”
An increased population is not the only thing challenging Canada’s infrastructure. Cities across Canada must learn to accommodate the changing demographic as younger populations typically flock to larger cities in the GTA.
“We are going to have more pressure on schools to close and we are seeing that a little bit now, but I don’t think it’s really hit people’s consciousness,” says Von Ziegenweidt. “What we should be looking at is merging [schools]where that’s feasible, or creating community hubs. So maybe facilities for seniors within schools in order to utilize the space more efficiently.”
Regions with higher senior populations tend to be more dependant on social institutions but contribute less to the economy because of fixed incomes, which poses a problem for cities’ economic development. “Maybe we are going to have get used to doing things more cheaply or get used to being under more financial pressure,” says Ziegenweidt. “I think encouraging people of working age to come to the region is absolutely part of the solution for the future”