Starting a Family in Canada: Fertility Statistics and What They Tell Us

Starting a Family in Canada: Fertility Statistics and What They Tell Us

According to Statistics Canada, our country’s total fertility rate (TFR) in 2022 was 1.33 children per woman. This is Canada’s lowest TFR recorded in over a century of data.

The years 1946 through 1965 were known as the “baby boom”, during which Canada’s total fertility rate peaked at 3.94 children per woman. This was followed by a “baby bust” from 1971 to 1972, impacted by the contraceptive pill and therapeutic abortion, which had recently been decriminalized.


A Changing World

What does our most recent TFR tell us? Essentially, Canadians across all provinces are having fewer children, whether they want to expand their families or not. 

In a CBC article from January 2024, the director of McGill’s Centre on Population Dynamics Sarah Brauner-Otto said global issues, such as economic instability and political unrest, have led many to reconsider having children. Across the world, the total fertility rate went down from 2020 to 2022, suggesting the COVID-19 pandemic (and the uncertainty that came with it) also caused a shift in fertility behaviors. 

Canadians who do decide to have children are often delaying becoming parents until their 30s. The average age of mothers at childbirth was 31.6 in 2022. For comparison, this number was 26.7 in 1976. With this delay, the possibility that a cishet couple will struggle with infertility increases. As a woman or person with ovaries ages, the number of viable eggs they have decreases. On the male side of things, conception is 30% less likely for men older than 40 compared to men younger than 30.


The Realities of Trying to Conceive  

Infertility is defined by the World Health Organization as “a disease of the male or female reproductive system, defined by the failure to achieve pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.” (This definition and the statistics we have access to  reflect our cisheteronormative world, and are therefore somewhat limited in their scope.)

 In terms of infertility and its impact, here are some important numbers: 

  • Approximately one in six Canadians experience infertility.
  • Male factor infertility makes up for almost half of the incidents of infertility in cishet couples. 30% of the time it is male-factor infertility, 40% of the time it is female, and 30% of the time it is a combination or the cause is unknown.
  • For women and people with ovaries, the chance of conceiving in any given month is about 20-25% on average in their reproductive years.
  • The Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society says that Canadians are seeking out IVF treatment more than ever before. The most recent numbers are from 2010: 11, 806 IVF treatments were performed that year. These cycles resulted in 3,188 births.

 Environmental Concerns

According to the NIH, lifestyle factors play a role in modern infertility.

“Research consistently shows that…what you eat, how well you sleep, where you live, and other behaviours have profound effects on health and disease. Fertility is no exception,” an article for the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development reads.

Nutrition, weight, and exercise, physical and psychological stress, environmental and occupational exposures, substance use and abuse, and prescription medications also all play a role here.  

The NIH says strenuous physical labour and certain medications tend to reduce sperm count in males, while excessive exercise in women affects ovulation and fertility. Substance use and abuse also affects fertility in both men and women, while having high blood pressure can change the shape of sperm, subsequently reducing fertility.


Economic Pressures and the Struggle to Thrive

Kate Choi, director of Western University’s Centre for Research on Social Inequality, told CTV in February of 2024 that financial uncertainty appears to be behind the decision for many couples and individuals who choose not to have children.  

In fact, economic issues are a trend across the board—for those unsure about having children, and for those who desperately want them. When many Canadians are struggling to find housing and pay for groceries, raising a child can seem like an impossibly challenging endeavor.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2022 38% of young adults (aged 20 to 29) did not believe they could afford to have a child in the following three years, and 32% did not believe they would have access to suitable housing for a family within that time.

Those who know they want kids and are struggling with infertility might not be able to afford the treatment that would ultimately help them. While assisted reproductive technology like IVF has provided solutions for many families in recent years, these treatments are underfunded and inaccessible to many.

If children are a definite part of someone’s plan, or even just a consideration, living in a free and equitable country should mean being supported in both conceiving and raising these children.

Unfortunately, in 2024, that support simply isn’t guaranteed. It is clear that if our total fertility rate is going to shift upward, more has to be done to ensure Canadian families feel capable of surviving and thriving in the modern world.

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