There are more seniors living in Canada than children and the proportion of young people in the country isn’t changing anytime soon.
By 2031, close to one in four Canadians could be 65 years of age or older, while the proportion of children under 15 could remain similar to the 2016 rate, according to the latest census data released by Statistics Canada.
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So if first comes love and then comes baby, why exactly have Canada’s fertility rates remained low since the 1970s?
“The combination of those two things makes people a little edgy about having children,” says Susan McDaniel, a Canada research chair in global population and life course at the University of Lethbridge.
McDaniel said the rise of the “gig economy” and precarious employment is one reason women are waiting longer and having fewer children. The average fertility in the United States was 2.0 children per woman in 2016, compared with 1.6 in Canada, according to Statistics Canada.
And while raising a child has never been cheap, the costs today are particularly jaw-dropping.
South of the border, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that an average middle-income family will spend US$233,610 to raise a child born in 2015 until they turn 18 – roughly $13,900 a year.
Canada doesn’t release similar figures, but a 2015 article by MoneySense magazine put the yearly cost of raising a child at $13,366 which adds up to just over $240,000 over 18 years. The four biggest costs are child care, housing, transportation and food, according MoneySense.
McDaniel said another societal factor is that families are feeling pressure to have “high-quality children.”
“You want to have [kids] in high-quality daycares, then you want them to have good educations, and you want them to be in hockey and ballet and music lessons and so on,” she said. “When you add it all up … people say ‘oh my gosh this is a costly venture.’
“[Canadians] are kind of crunching down to have a high-quality, small number of children.”
And it’s not just Canada, many developed countries are seeing lower birth rates, including Spain, Italy and Japan.
Japan, for example, has the oldest population in the world, with one in four people 65 years of age and older- due to a combination of very low fertility and extremely high life expectancy, according to Stats Canada.
But aside from soaring real-estate prices and stagnant wages among worker, McDaniel said there are two other societal factors that can help explain why women are having fewer children.
“[In the past] sometimes women thought and perceived themselves by society as mothers. They weren’t seen as totally fulfilled unless they were a mother,” she said. “This is diminishing.”
Whether as a surgeon, teacher or another profession, McDaniel says the notion of motherhood isn’t always a priority for women.
“Women are seeing themselves in a larger mosaic of roles than just mothers,” she said.
McDaniel said that increasingly, people living in G7 countries are becoming more concerned about the impact human populations are having on the planet and could contribute to families planning to have fewer children.
“People may want the experience of parenthood but you can get that if you have one maybe two,” she said. “And you’re not creating an ecologically heavy footprint.”
*With a report from Marilisa Racco
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