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How the pandemic has changed family planning in Canada

By Christy Somos, CTVNews.ca Writer

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    TORONTO, Ontario (CTV Network) — Many Canadians are delaying their plans to have children or planning to have fewer kids due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new analysis from Statistics Canada.

Using data from the first series of the Canadian Social Survey – COVID-19 and Well-being (CSS-CW), StatCan analyzed whether Canadians aged 15 to 49 made changes to their fertility plans because of the pandemic, including changes to the timing of childbearing, the impacts to the number of children desired and to what extent certain sociodemographic characteristic were more or less likely to adjust their fertility plans.

The survey results, published in a report Wednesday, found that close to a quarter (24 per cent) of Canadians aged 15 to 49 in 2021 have changed their fertility plans because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Overall, 19 per cent of 15 to 49 year-olds wanted to have fewer children than previously planned or to have a baby later than previously planned because of the pandemic.

However, four per cent of those surveyed reported they now wanted to have more children than previously planned or to have a baby sooner than planned.

“The unique circumstances of the COVID 19 pandemic may have led some individuals to delay or abandon their plans to have a child out of health concerns, or as a result of secondary effects of the pandemic such as job loss, reduced income, financial uncertainty or general stress,” the researchers wrote. “On the other hand, for some the pandemic may have led to a newfound interest in conceiving a child as a result of more time at home and the desire to have a new, enriching experience.”

The report describes Canada as a “low-fertility country” whose fertility rate has been steadily declining since 2008. Since the pandemic began the trend has intensified – Canada’s fertility rate decreased from 1.47 children per child-bearer in 2019 to a record low of 1.40 children per child-bearer in 2020.

In 2020 Canada also experienced the lowest number of births and the largest year-over-year decrease in births at -3.6 per cent, since 2006.

The survey found the most common change to fertility plans was to delay having children, a finding deemed “particularly meaningful” by the study as Canada is a late-childbearing country with the average age of child-bearers at time of delivery being around 31 years old in 2020.

The survey also found that Canadians who had no children were twice as likely to now want to have children later or to have fewer children compared to those who were already parents.

VISIBLE MINORITIES MORE LIKELY TO CHANGE FERTILITY PLANS

The CSS-CW found that individuals belonging to groups designated as visible minorities were significantly more likely to have reported wanting to have fewer children or to have them later, at 25 per cent of respondents versus those not belonging to those groups at 17 per cent.

“This differential may partly reflect the fact that visible minorities have been disproportionately negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, whether measured through unemployment, financial difficulties, or COVID-19 mortality rates,” researchers wrote.

The survey noted that neither immigrant status nor LGBTQ2S+ status had a significant bearing on the likelihood of someone changing their fertility plans, but did note a regional trend comparing the Atlantic provinces to Ontario and Quebec.

Sixteen per cent of those living in the east coast provinces and 13 per cent of those living in Quebec reported wanting fewer children or to have them later compared to 22 per cent in Ontario. The survey posits that this may have to do with youth employment rates, housing affordability and availability and Quebec’s unique low-fee childcare.

The researchers wrote that it remains to be seen whether or not Canada’s total fertility rate will return to its pre-pandemic levels in years to come or continue with the declining trend seen over the past years.

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