This past week, the Canadian dollar continued its resurgence and reached its highest trading levels in over three decades. The revitalization of the Canadian economy is tied in large part to petroleum, a non-renewable resource. The continued growth of the economy is inextricably tied to a renewable one as well: children. Unfortunately, experts are fretting that Canadian women aren't producing enough babies to meet society's needs.
In the cover story of the May 28 issue of Maclean's, Lianne George frets about the future of Canada when birth rates are below those needed to maintain the present population, discounts the possibility of immigrants filling the gap and posits whether or not drastic measures should be taken to change things before it's too late. However, Maclean's seems to miss the point: Canadian women have valid reasons for not having more babies.
More women have chosen to put off having children than ever before, with the average woman having her first child at the age of 31. Undoubtedly contributing to the late start is the fact the cost of living in many major Canadian municipalities--most obviously in large urban centres like Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto--has risen faster than wages, making it harder than ever for Canadians to afford to have children.
Meanwhile, immigration is at its highest levels in years, continuing a decade-long upward trend that doesn't seem to be slowing down. The cause of this trend is a thriving Canadian economy, coupled with a shortage of labour in many of the industries that support it. While the cost of living has risen throughout the country, the increase in wages and the sheer number of available jobs have provided incentives for people to flock to Canada.
So, what's to be done about the lack of babies? Probably nothing. The fact is the downswing in fertility rates isn't just a Canadian occurrence, but rather a worldwide phenomenon. Since the Industrial Revolution, western countries have become increasingly urbanized and industrialized, eliminating the need for couples to have a large amount of children. Two generations ago, Canadian couples regularly had five or six children in order to run farms efficiently. Now most have one or two.
Short of passing laws renouncing women's suffrage and forcing them to procreate more often, the Canadian government still has options. First on the agenda should be taking a long look at the obstacles--financial and otherwise--Canadians face when having children. Since the government can't arbitrarily make things less expensive, perhaps a system of tax breaks for child-bearing couples, investigation into gender-based financial inequalities in the workplace and analysis of funding for child care facilities would find ways to ease the burden.
It's cliche to say children are our future but Canada's economy is driven by people and oil, and we're eventually going to run out of oil. Our country's ability to continue to produce future generations will depend almost entirely on the ability of Canadians to make rational choices regarding their futures. If the various levels of government can make childbirth and child raising less costly, Canada will have more than enough children to fuel the next economic boom.