Insights on Canadian Society
Fertility rates and labour force participation among women in Quebec and Ontario

by Melissa Moyser and Anne Milan

Release date: July 18, 2018

Skip to text

Text begins

Start of text box
Overview of the study

Using data from the Canadian Vital Statistics Birth Database and from the Labour Force Survey (LFS), this study examines the relationship between fertility rates and labour force participation among women aged 15 to 44 in Ontario and in Quebec between 1996 and 2016, two provinces that followed different paths with respect to parental leave benefits and affordable child care over the past two decades.

  • After four decades of similarity, fertility rates have been slightly higher in Quebec than in Ontario since 2005. In 2016, Quebec’s total fertility rate was 1.59 children per woman, while Ontario’s was 1.46.
  • The difference was mostly driven by women in their twenties, who tend to have more children in Quebec than in Ontario. This is partly because the proportion of women in their twenties who are in a couple is higher in Quebec (39%, versus 28% in Ontario in 2016).
  • As fertility rates increased in Quebec, the labour force participation of women aged 15 to 44 also increased, exceeding that of women in Ontario after 2003. In 2016, the participation rate of women was 81% in Quebec, compared with 75% in Ontario.
  • Most of the relative increase in female labour force participation in Quebec occurred among women with young children. Between 1996 and 2016, the labour force participation rate of women whose youngest child was under the age of 3 increased by nearly 20 percentage points in Quebec, compared with a 4 percentage point increase in Ontario. The Quebec–Ontario difference was smaller among women without children under the age of 13.
  • Changes in the composition of the population of women aged 15 to 44 and differences in real wage growth for this population do not explain the divergent trends observed in female labour force participation in Quebec and Ontario after 1996. At the same time, the costs associated with child care and housekeeping services grew less in Quebec than in Ontario over the period.
End of text box

Introduction

Historically, higher fertility rates have been associated with lower female labour force participation (and vice versa) in industrialized countries.Note This negative correlation is generally interpreted as evidence of the incompatibility of motherhood and paid work in circumstances where women remain more involved in housework and child care activities despite their increased labour force participation.Note

Since the 1980s, the inverse relationship between fertility rates and female labour force participation has weakened, even becoming positive in the United States and Northern Europe.Note Based on cross-national studies, scholars have attributed these findings to changes in social context that facilitate the combination of earning and caring roles among women, including more positive attitudes toward working mothers and family-related policies such as financial transfers to parents, state-mandated parental leave, and greater access to affordable, high-quality child care.Note

According to economic theories of fertility, the decision to have a child is made by rational actors who weigh the economic costs and benefits of doing so, subject to an income constraint and preferences for children.Note All else being equal, any reduction in the cost of children, or any increase in income, will increase the desire to have children.Note It follows that family-related policies like cash child/family allowances, tax relief for parents, parental leave benefits, and subsidies for child care are expected to increase fertility rates. At the same time, parental leave benefits and affordable, high-quality child care tend to increase female labour force participation, as mothers often retain ultimate responsibility for the care of their children.Note They are the ones who typically make arrangements for child care and then pay for it with their own earnings,Note and/or adjust their work hours and schedules or disrupt their employment to meet the needs of their children.Note

In Canada, family and social policy is largely determined at the provincial level. Since the mid-1990s, the two largest Canadian provinces (Quebec and Ontario) followed different paths with respect to parental leave benefits and affordable child care. Beginning in 1997, Quebec implemented Scandinavian-inspired family policies, the centerpiece of which is a universal, low-fee child care program for preschool-age children. That program distinguishes Quebec from Ontario and the rest of Canada, where there is a shortage of regulated childcare spaces and subsidies are available exclusively to low-income families.Note Quebec also introduced a parental leave benefit program for its residents in 2006.Note Elsewhere in Canada, parental leave benefits continue to be administered through the Employment Insurance program. Quebec has lower eligibility criteria for parental leave benefitsNote and a higher maximum for insurable income than Ontario and the rest of Canada.Note

Using data from the Canadian Vital Statistics Birth Database and the Labour Force Survey, this study explores the notion that fertility rates and female labour force participation may be positively correlated in social contexts where motherhood and paid work are more compatible. This is accomplished by tracking the evolution of fertility rates and female labour force participation over two decades in the provinces of Quebec and Ontario. Quebec was chosen because its family-related policies are unique within Canada. Ontario was chosen as the comparison group instead of another province or the rest of Canada because of its similarity to Quebec in terms of population size and composition, geography and economy. In addition to being Canada’s two most populous provinces, Quebec and Ontario are centrally located neighbours and share an economic base as important exporters of manufactured goods to the United States.Note Quebec and Ontario are also demographically similar with respect to age structure and representation of groups known to have distinctive patterns of fertility and labour force participation, such as Aboriginal people and immigrants.

Women in Quebec have higher fertility rates than women in Ontario

Fertility rates in Canada have been on a downward trend for the past century, with the notable exception of the baby boom that occurred from 1946 to 1965 (Chart 1). Since the early 1970s, the total fertility rate (the average number of children per woman) has consistently been below the level at which couples have a sufficient number of children to replace themselves (i.e., the “replacement level” of 2.1).Note In 2016, the total fertility rate in Canada was 1.54 children per woman. The total fertility rate was higher in Quebec at 1.59 children per woman than the national average, and lower in Ontario at 1.46 children per woman than the national average.

Data table for Chart 1

Data table for Chart 1

Data table for chart 1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for chart 1 Quebec and Ontario, calculated using number of children per woman units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Quebec Ontario
number of children per woman
1926 4.31 2.73
1927 4.27 2.70
1928 4.20 2.70
1929 4.01 2.67
1930 4.06 2.75
1931 4.00 2.65
1932 3.80 2.53
1933 3.50 2.37
1934 3.44 2.28
1935 3.37 2.27
1936 3.37 2.22
1937 3.27 2.16
1938 3.26 2.27
1939 3.21 2.20
1940 3.28 2.31
1941 3.38 2.40
1942 3.52 2.50
1943 3.57 2.58
1944 3.64 2.47
1945 3.66 2.46
1946 3.82 2.96
1947 3.89 3.26
1948 3.79 3.08
1949 3.79 3.10
1950 3.80 3.10
1951 3.76 3.21
1952 3.85 3.38
1953 3.86 3.47
1954 3.94 3.58
1955 3.88 3.61
1956 3.90 3.65
1957 4.00 3.72
1958 3.94 3.69
1959 3.93 3.78
1960 3.77 3.81
1961 3.71 3.76
1962 3.59 3.71
1963 3.49 3.64
1964 3.35 3.50
1965 3.01 3.14
1966 2.65 2.80
1967 2.37 2.59
1968 2.19 2.47
1969 2.11 2.45
1970 1.99 2.41
1971 1.84 2.15
1972 1.68 1.99
1973 1.64 1.90
1974 1.61 1.84
1975 1.71 1.80
1976 1.72 1.72
1977 1.69 1.68
1978 1.64 1.62
1979 1.67 1.61
1980 1.63 1.61
1981 1.58 1.58
1982 1.48 1.59
1983 1.43 1.58
1984 1.42 1.61
1985 1.40 1.60
1986 1.38 1.60
1987 1.36 1.58
1988 1.42 1.59
1989 1.52 1.62
1990 1.64 1.66
1991 1.65 1.69
1992 1.67 1.68
1993 1.64 1.67
1994 1.64 1.67
1995 1.62 1.67
1996 1.61 1.61
1997 1.54 1.54
1998 1.49 1.55
1999 1.47 1.54
2000 1.45 1.49
2001 1.49 1.53
2002 1.47 1.48
2003 1.50 1.51
2004 1.50 1.52
2005 1.54 1.53
2006 1.65 1.55
2007 1.68 1.58
2008 1.73 1.60
2009 1.73 1.59
2010 1.70 1.56
2011 1.68 1.55
2012 1.67 1.55
2013 1.65 1.51
2014 1.63 1.50
2015 1.61 1.48
2016 1.59 1.46

Since 2005, and for the first time since the late 1950s (with a brief exception between 1977 and 1980), the fertility rate was higher in Quebec than in Ontario. This reflects a historical pattern that prevailed until the 1960s, at which time the total fertility rate in Quebec plummeted. Although the total fertility rate declined at the same time in Ontario, it fell from a higher point to a lower point in Quebec during the period. The lowest total fertility rate ever observed in Quebec occurred in 1987 at 1.36 children per woman. In Ontario, the lowest point was observed in 2016, at 1.46 children per woman.

Younger women drive Quebec’s higher fertility rates relative to Ontario

Since the collection of vital statistics began in Canada in the 1920s, fertility rates have been highest for women in their twenties. A new national pattern of age-specific fertility emerged in 2008, when the fertility rate of women in their thirties slightly exceeded that of women in their twenties. This was part of a long-term trend of declining fertility among women in their twenties (which had been occurring since the mid-1960s) and increasing fertility among women in their thirties (which had been occurring since the 1980s).Note Women are delaying childbearing to older ages, with those aged 30 and over having more children now than previously. It follows that the decline in the total fertility rate is largely attributable to lower fertility rates among women under 30.Note

These trends in age-specific fertility rates did not occur at the same pace in Quebec and Ontario (Chart 2). The increase in the fertility rates of women in their thirties was both less steep and less consistent in Quebec than in Ontario. The fertility rates of women in their twenties also decreased at a slower pace throughout the 1990s in Quebec than in Ontario, resulting in higher fertility rates in Quebec. The fertility rate of women in their twenties has been on a downward trend in Ontario for at least the past four decades while in Quebec, there were periods of increase in both the 1990s and mid-2000s. For these reasons, the fertility rates of women in their thirties surpassed that of women in their twenties eight years later in Quebec than in Ontario (2011 versus 2003).

Data table for Chart 2

Data table for Chart 2

Data table for chart 2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for chart 2 Quebec, Ontario, Women aged 20 to 29 and Women aged 30 to 39, calculated using per 1,000 women units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Quebec Ontario
Women aged 20 to 29 Women aged 30 to 39 Women aged 20 to 29 Women aged 30 to 39
per 1,000 women
1976 113.8 48.5 111.1 43.8
1977 112.0 48.2 109.2 44.8
1978 109.5 46.5 105.5 44.4
1979 112.0 47.8 104.3 45.6
1980 109.2 46.3 103.6 46.1
1981 105.7 44.8 100.5 46.5
1982 100.0 41.5 99.9 47.6
1983 97.0 39.9 98.9 49.0
1984 95.8 40.5 99.3 51.4
1985 93.7 40.2 97.2 52.4
1986 91.9 39.5 96.5 53.3
1987 90.9 39.9 94.5 54.7
1988 95.0 42.1 94.4 56.7
1989 101.4 46.0 95.1 59.3
1990 108.0 50.3 96.9 61.7
1991 107.9 51.7 96.1 64.2
1992 106.8 53.2 94.3 64.7
1993 103.1 53.2 91.1 65.7
1994 101.6 53.9 90.1 66.2
1995 97.8 54.2 87.6 67.9
1996 96.6 53.7 82.8 66.8
1997 90.4 52.0 78.2 64.7
1998 86.8 50.0 78.2 64.7
1999 83.7 50.0 76.6 65.0
2000 81.8 50.0 72.9 64.2
2001 82.1 53.5 72.7 68.1
2002 79.7 54.6 69.1 67.4
2003 80.6 57.8 68.6 70.2
2004 78.1 61.5 68.2 72.8
2005 80.0 64.7 67.1 75.2
2006 83.7 72.9 66.8 77.1
2007 85.1 75.8 66.8 79.6
2008 87.3 79.4 67.6 80.4
2009 86.3 79.7 65.8 80.9
2010 82.2 80.7 63.1 81.4
2011 79.8 80.6 62.0 82.4
2012 77.3 81.0 60.6 83.6
2013 74.8 81.3 57.8 83.3
2014 72.8 80.6 56.9 83.3
2015 70.9 80.2 54.8 83.9
2016 70.0 79.2 53.3 84.3

These findings indicate that women in their twenties largely account for the recent increase in the total fertility rate in Quebec relative to Ontario. That finding is confirmed through a counterfactual exercise in which Quebec’s total fertility rate is calculated using the age-specific fertility rates of Ontario women in their twenties in place of the age-specific fertility rates of Quebec women in their twenties. Doing so reveals that Quebec’s total fertility rate would have been 1.42 in 2016 (instead of 1.59)—nearly equivalent to Ontario’s total fertility rate (1.46).

Women in Quebec are having more children younger than women in Ontario

A drawback of the total fertility rate is that it is influenced by changes in the tempo and timing of childbearing. One way of separating changes in the timing of childbearing from changes in the quantity of childbearing involves the examination of the fertility rate by age of different cohorts of women whose fertility has peaked. In this section, two cohorts are examined: the fertility rate by age for women born in 1970 (aged 46 in 2016), and the fertility rate for women who were born in 1980 (aged 36 in 2016).

The age–fertility patterns of women born in 1970 followed a similar pattern in both provinces, with some differences (Chart 3). For this cohort, peak fertility occurred earlier in Quebec than in Ontario, but fertility was higher at older ages in Ontario. This explains why there was little difference in the total fertility rates of Ontario and Quebec women during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Data table for Chart 3

Data table for Chart 3

Data table for chart 3
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for chart 3 Quebec and Ontario (appearing as column headers).
Quebec Ontario
Women born in 1970 Women born in 1980 Women born in 1970 Women born in 1980
Age rate per 1,000 women
15 2.3 2.5 3.1 3.9
16 6.3 6.2 9.4 10.2
17 11.3 11.8 18.9 16.7
18 22.2 20.9 26.6 24.0
19 37.7 32.2 38.4 29.9
20 52.1 40.8 46.8 36.0
21 64.3 47.3 56.4 40.5
22 75.8 53.8 62.9 45.2
23 89.4 62.0 71.6 52.4
24 101.5 69.7 80.7 60.5
25 110.2 88.8 91.7 70.1
26 120.9 104.5 97.6 80.9
27 116.2 117.2 100.1 92.9
28 116.0 129.1 108.2 106.5
29 110.4 133.2 111.4 111.0
30 102.5 127.6 107.9 113.5
31 98.0 121.9 108.4 115.4
32 87.9 111.1 101.3 114.5
33 76.4 99.3 91.5 105.9
34 67.3 90.0 85.9 94.7
35 59.4 76.6 74.9 90.5
36 50.3 63.9 62.8 71.0
37 41.5 Note ...: not applicable 51.1 Note ...: not applicable
38 33.4 Note ...: not applicable 40.6 Note ...: not applicable
39 24.8 Note ...: not applicable 31.8 Note ...: not applicable
40 19.2 Note ...: not applicable 22.8 Note ...: not applicable
41 13.1 Note ...: not applicable 15.5 Note ...: not applicable
42 8.4 Note ...: not applicable 9.4 Note ...: not applicable
43 4.8 Note ...: not applicable 5.8 Note ...: not applicable
44 2.9 Note ...: not applicable 3.2 Note ...: not applicable
45 1.6 Note ...: not applicable 1.8 Note ...: not applicable
46 0.7 Note ...: not applicable 1.3 Note ...: not applicable

Among women born in 1980, peak fertility occurred at older ages in both provinces but was higher in Quebec, particularly at ages 28 and 29. Ontario women born in 1980 had slightly higher fertility rates in their thirties than their Quebec counterparts. The relative increase in Quebec’s total fertility rate after the mid-2000s means that women in their late twenties in that province had a greater number of children than their Ontario counterparts.

More women in their twenties are part of a couple in Quebec than in Ontario

The recent relative increase in the fertility rate of Quebec women was driven by women in their twenties. Therefore, it is worthwhile to consider whether there have been compositional shifts in this demographic group with respect to conjugal and marital status in Quebec and Ontario. A greater proportion of women in their twenties were in a couple in Quebec than Ontario in both 1996 and 2016 (Chart 4).Note  That disparity grew over time, such that 39% of Quebec women in their twenties were part of a couple in 2016, compared with 28% of Ontario women.Note Although the conjugal status of mothers may change over time, these findings suggest that the higher fertility rates of women in their twenties in Quebec, compared with their counterparts in Ontario, partly reflects their greater likelihood of being in a couple.

Data table for Chart 4

Data table for Chart 4

Data table for chart 4
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for chart 4 Married spouse, Common-law partner and Not part of a couple (appearing as column headers).
Married spouse Common-law partner Not part of a couple
Year Age Province percent
1996 20 to 29 Quebec 18.5 28.5 52.9
Ontario 30.0 10.3 59.7
30 to 39 Quebec 48.4 23.9 27.7
Ontario 65.7 7.5 26.8
2006 20 to 29 Quebec 10.9 33.1 56.0
Ontario 21.4 13.0 65.7
30 to 39 Quebec 36.0 35.6 28.4
Ontario 62.8 10.0 27.2
2016 20 to 29 Quebec 8.3 30.3 61.4
Ontario 14.5 13.9 71.6
30 to 39 Quebec 31.1 39.6 29.3
Ontario 56.3 12.3 31.4

Why are more women in their twenties in couples in Quebec than in Ontario? Since 1996, the proportion of married women decreased in both provinces, but common-law unions remain more ubiquitous in Quebec than in Ontario. In fact, the vast majority of Quebec women in their twenties who were part of a couple in 2016 were in a common-law union (79%) as opposed to being married (21%). In Ontario, just over half (51%) of coupled women in their twenties were married.

It may therefore be that the greater social acceptance of common-law unions in Quebec, relative to Ontario, facilitates family formation among young adults, possibly because they do not carry the same presumed prerequisites (like stable economic prospects) as marriage.Note Specifically, common-law unions are widely accepted and viewed as an alternative to marriage in Quebec. Elsewhere in Canada, however, common-law unions are often viewed as a prelude to marriage and therefore selective of individuals who are economically less ready for marriage in terms of education and income.Note

Previous research has shown that common-law unions have a different meaning and character in Quebec, compared with other provinces. For example, the formation of first unions tends to occur at younger ages in Quebec than in the rest of Canada,Note and common-law unions are preferred over marriage as first unions in Quebec.Note Common-law unions also tend to have higher fertility rates and greater stability in Quebec than in other provinces in terms of union duration.Note

Women in Quebec have been participating in the labour market more than women in Ontario since 2003

Since the 1960s, the labour force participation of women in Canada has increased. Most of that growth has occurred among women in couples, particularly those with young children, as it was once common for women to cease working after childbearing—if they had not already done so upon marriage. Even today, mothers continue to have lower rates of labour force participation than women with no children (as well as lower rates than fathers), particularly when their children are infants and toddlers. In 2016, 71% of women aged 15 to 44 with a child under the age of 3 in the household participated in the labour market, compared with 77% of their counterparts with no children or with older children.

Given that children are associated with lower rates of labour force participation among women, did the post-2005 increase in fertility rates in Quebec, relative to Ontario, coincide with a decrease in the labour force participation of women in that province?

From the beginning of the modern Labour Force Survey in 1976, the labour force participation of women under the age of 45 was lower in Quebec than in Ontario. However, female labour force participation increased at a faster pace in Quebec than in Ontario, particularly after 1996 (Chart 5). Specifically, the labour force participation of women increased by 19 percentage points in Quebec (from 51% to 70%) and by 14 percentage points in Ontario (from 60% to 74%) between 1976 and 1996. After 1996, female labour force participation in Quebec rose by another 11 percentage points (from 70% to 81%), while female labour force participation in Ontario stalled (at around 75%).

Data table for Chart 5

Data table for Chart 5

Data table for chart 5
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for chart 5 Quebec, Ontario, Total fertility rate and Labour force participation rate, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Quebec Ontario
Total fertility rate Labour force participation rate Total fertility rate Labour force participation rate
percent
1996 1.61 69.6 1.61 74.2
1997 1.54 70.2 1.54 74.0
1998 1.49 71.0 1.55 74.8
1999 1.47 71.8 1.54 75.7
2000 1.45 72.7 1.49 76.4
2001 1.49 73.8 1.53 76.7
2002 1.47 76.2 1.48 77.2
2003 1.50 77.9 1.51 77.1
2004 1.50 78.1 1.52 77.3
2005 1.54 77.6 1.53 77.1
2006 1.65 77.2 1.55 76.4
2007 1.68 78.3 1.58 77.3
2008 1.73 78.3 1.60 76.4
2009 1.73 78.6 1.59 75.9
2010 1.70 79.0 1.56 75.8
2011 1.68 79.1 1.55 75.0
2012 1.67 79.2 1.55 74.7
2013 1.65 79.6 1.51 75.5
2014 1.63 79.3 1.50 75.4
2015 1.61 80.1 1.48 74.5
2016 1.59 80.8 1.46 74.5

As a result, for the first time in 2003, the labour force participation rate of women in Quebec exceeded that of women in Ontario (78% versus 77%). That divergence widened in subsequent years such that the rate of female labour force participation was 6 percentage points higher in Quebec in 2016 (81%) than in Ontario (75%). Notably, the divergence between the labour force participation rates of women in Quebec and Ontario coincided with the divergence between the total fertility rates in these provinces beginning in the mid-2000s. It follows that the relative increase in the total fertility rate in Quebec corresponded to a relative increase in female labour force participation.

Labour force participation increased faster among women with young children in Quebec

The recent increase in female labour force participation in Quebec, relative to Ontario, was driven by those whose youngest child in the household was under the age of 13, who therefore had a need for either pre-school child care or before- and after-school care (charts 6.1 to 6.4). Specifically, 60% of the increase in the number of women participating in the labour market in Quebec between 1996 and 2016 occurred among those with a child under 13. More than half of that increase occurred among women whose youngest child in the household was under the age of 3.

Data table for Chart 6.1

Data table for Chart 6.1

Data table for chart 6.1
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for chart 6.1 Youngest child in the household under 3, Quebec and Ontario, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Youngest child in the household under 3
Quebec Ontario
percent
1996 61.4 65.6
1997 62.6 65.6
1998 65.4 65.3
1999 64.3 64.9
2000 65.1 66.0
2001 66.7 66.9
2002 70.1 66.8
2003 71.7 67.6
2004 73.5 68.5
2005 74.0 69.3
2006 74.5 67.4
2007 74.2 68.4
2008 72.0 67.9
2009 73.1 68.8
2010 75.1 70.7
2011 76.1 69.5
2012 77.0 70.9
2013 79.1 70.9
2014 77.2 69.7
2015 78.6 68.2
2016 80.0 69.5

Data table for Chart 6.2

Data table for Chart 6.2

Data table for chart 6.2
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for chart 6.2 Youngest child in the household aged 3 to 5, Quebec and Ontario, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Youngest child in the household aged 3 to 5
Quebec Ontario
percent
1996 65.4 68.7
1997 65.9 70.5
1998 67.3 72.6
1999 70.6 72.3
2000 72.7 74.3
2001 74.4 74.1
2002 76.4 75.2
2003 77.0 74.0
2004 79.1 74.4
2005 78.7 75.7
2006 77.2 72.5
2007 80.2 78.9
2008 77.7 74.6
2009 78.6 75.1
2010 80.4 72.9
2011 81.1 74.6
2012 81.5 75.3
2013 82.7 76.8
2014 82.1 76.5
2015 80.9 75.6
2016 81.4 76.4

Data table for Chart 6.3

Data table for Chart 6.3

Data table for chart 6.3
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for chart 6.3 Youngest child in the household aged 6 to 12, Quebec and Ontario, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Youngest child in the household aged 6 to 12
Quebec Ontario
percent
1996 73.2 79.2
1997 75.4 78.7
1998 74.9 79.0
1999 76.7 81.3
2000 78.0 80.4
2001 80.1 81.7
2002 82.2 83.9
2003 83.2 82.7
2004 81.6 83.8
2005 82.5 83.7
2006 83.4 82.6
2007 84.1 83.9
2008 87.0 83.0
2009 86.3 83.3
2010 85.0 84.4
2011 86.1 83.3
2012 86.0 82.6
2013 86.0 83.0
2014 87.5 82.2
2015 87.3 82.1
2016 87.1 81.3

Data table for Chart 6.4

Data table for Chart 6.4

Data table for chart 6.4
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for chart 6.4 No children under 13 in the household, Quebec and Ontario, calculated using percent units of measure (appearing as column headers).
No children under 13 in the household
Quebec Ontario
percent
1996 71.3 75.9
1997 71.2 75.4
1998 71.8 76.1
1999 72.2 77.1
2000 72.8 77.9
2001 73.4 77.8
2002 75.7 77.9
2003 77.8 78.0
2004 77.8 77.8
2005 76.8 77.3
2006 76.3 77.3
2007 77.6 77.4
2008 77.8 77.1
2009 78.0 75.8
2010 78.4 75.5
2011 78.1 74.6
2012 78.0 73.8
2013 77.9 74.8
2014 77.6 75.2
2015 78.7 74.1
2016 79.3 73.8

Quebec women whose youngest child in the household was under 3 saw the greatest increase in labour force participation between 1996 and 2016, at 19 percentage points (from 61% to 80%), followed by those whose youngest child was aged between 3 and 5, at 16 percentage points (from 65% to 81%), then by those whose youngest child was between 6 and 12, at 14 percentage points (from 73% to 87%). Over the same period, the labour force participation of Quebec women with no children under 13 increased by 8 percentage points (from 71% to 79%). Other research has shown that the increase in the labour force participation of Quebec women with no children in the household under 13 could partly be attributed to the enduring effects of the province’s low-fee child care program.Note

The labour force participation of women in Ontario whose youngest child in the household was under 13 also increased to some extent between 1996 and 2016—albeit much less than the labour force participation of their counterparts in Quebec. For example, among women with children under 3, the rate of labour force participation grew by 4 percentage points in Ontario (from 66% to 70%), compared with 19 percentage points in Quebec (from 61% to 80%). At the same time, the labour force participation of women in Ontario with no children under 13 decreased slightly, by 2 percentage points (from 76% to 74%).

Most of the increase in the labour force participation of women with young children in Quebec was among women in couples without a university degree

The recent increase in the labour force participation of Quebec women whose youngest child in the household was under 13 occurred most notably among those in couples (by 17 percentage points), while it increased to a lesser extent among those who were not part of a couple (by 9 percentage points) (Chart 7). This finding likely reflects the fact that prior to the introduction of the low-fee child care program in 1997, child care subsidies were available to eligible low-income families in Quebec—among whom lone mothers are overrepresented.Note There was also a refundable tax credit for child care with a variable rate that was higher for lower-income families.Note As a result, the low-fee child care program primarily reduced the price of child care for Quebec mothers in couples who previously would not have qualified for child care subsidies because of their higher family incomes.

Data table for Chart 7

Data table for Chart 7

Data table for chart 7
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for chart 7 1996 and 2016 (appearing as column headers).
1996 2016
Province Conjugal status percent
Quebec Couple 67.1 84.4
Not living in a couple 66.2 74.7
Ontario Couple 72.0 76.3
Not living in a couple 68.2 72.0

In Ontario, labour force participation increased similarly among women who were in a couple and those who were not (by 4 percentage points).Note

Among Quebec women whose youngest child in the household was under 13, labour force participation increased to a greater extent between 1996 and 2016 among those with less than a university degree than among those with more than a university degree, particularly when compared with parallel trends in Ontario.

Specifically, the labour force participation of Quebec women with less than a high school diploma increased by 6 percentage points, while the labour force participation of Ontario women decreased by 13 percentage points (Chart 8). Similarly, among women with a high school diploma, labour force participation increased by 4 percentage points in Quebec, but fell by 6 points in Ontario. A large gap in participation also developed among those who had a post-secondary certificate or diploma: Quebec women’s participation increased by 13 points, while Ontario women’s rate rose a more modest 2 points. Meanwhile, the labour force participation of women with a university degree in Quebec increased by 6 percentage points, while their counterparts in Ontario saw an increase of 2 points, the lowest relative increase (4 percentage points) between the two provinces.

Data table for Chart 8

Data table for Chart 8

Data table for chart 8
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for chart 8 1996 and 2016 (appearing as column headers).
1996 2016
Province Level of education percent
Quebec University 82.3 88.1
College 75.0 87.5
High school 67.4 71.3
Less than high school 42.1 48.3
Ontario University 80.7 82.5
College 79.1 80.9
High school 69.1 62.6
Less than high school 55.0 41.6

These findings suggest that Quebec’s family policies made it economically beneficial for women with lower levels of educational attainment—who tend to earn lower wages—to join and remain in the workforce. Illustrating the impact of the low-fee child care program in Quebec, the price index for child care and housekeeping services rose by 72% in Ontario between 1996 and 2016, compared with 28% in Quebec (Chart 9). The price for such services in Quebec even declined after 1999 when the program was expanded to all children under the age of 5, before increasing again after 2006.Note

Data table for Chart 9

Data table for Chart 9

Data table for chart 9
Table summary
This table displays the results of Data table for chart 9 Quebec and Ontario, calculated using index units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Quebec Ontario
index
1996 100.0 100.0
1997 102.3 101.1
1998 104.1 102.2
1999 106.0 104.1
2000 95.9 106.1
2001 89.4 109.8
2002 86.3 110.6
2003 83.5 112.6
2004 84.4 116.6
2005 82.1 119.0
2006 81.3 123.8
2007 84.6 130.4
2008 93.4 137.1
2009 100.3 141.4
2010 109.8 147.1
2011 116.3 151.9
2012 119.4 154.9
2013 120.2 158.2
2014 122.1 162.1
2015 126.6 167.1
2016 127.7 171.8

Given that child care subsidies were only available to low-income families in Quebec prior to the introduction of low-fee child care in 1997, the opposite might be expected—that is, for high- and middle-income families to see a larger price reduction in child care thereafter.Note However, the low-fee child care program may actually be more accessible to liquidity-constrained low-income families compared with the previous regime since child care service providers are directly funded by the provincial government (resulting in parents making reduced contributions).Note In the past, child care expenses in Quebec were reduced through a refundable tax credit.Note

Changes in wages and population characteristics do not explain the increase in the labour force participation of Quebec women

Among older women (aged 45 and over), most of whom would not have benefitted from Quebec’s family policies, labour force participation also increased by 11 percentage points between 1996 and 2016 (from 34% to 45%). However, the labour force participation of older women in Ontario increased similarly by 10 percentage points between 1996 and 2016 (from 39% to 49%)—without a parallel increase in the labour force participation of younger women. These changes reinforce the notion that Quebec’s family policies have had an impact on the labour force participation of women with children.

That said, it is also important to consider other factors that may have contributed to the relative increase in the labour force participation of women aged 15 to 44 since the mid-2000s. Possible factors include differences in population characteristics and differences in wage growth. Changes in population characteristics include differences in age structure, educational attainment and the immigrant population.

With respect to age structure, the labour force participation of young adults (aged 15 to 24) is often limited by their school attendance, and limited thereafter by their minimal work experience. For these reasons, a shift toward older ages within the 15-to-44 age group may correspond to greater labour force participation. From 1996 to 2016, however, the share of women in this age group who were aged 35 to 44 decreased by 3 percentage points in both Quebec (from 38% to 35%) and Ontario (from 36% to 33%).

Differences in educational attainment can also have an impact since individuals with higher levels of education tend to have higher levels of labour force participation than those with lower levels of education because they are considered more employable and the opportunity costs (i.e., foregone wages) of not doing paid work are greater. For these reasons, the increasing prevalence of university degrees is expected to be positively correlated with labour force participation. Between 1996 and 2016, the proportion of women with a university degree rose by 16 percentage points in Quebec (from 14% to 30%) and by 18 percentage points in Ontario (from 16% to 34%).

Foreign-born individuals tend to have lower rates of labour force participation than their Canadian-born counterparts. Although this disparity tends to decrease with duration in Canada as immigrants acquire Canadian work experience and their language proficiency improves, the proportion of foreign-born individuals in the population is expected to bring down the overall rate of labour force participation. That said, the proportion of immigrants rose faster in Quebec than in Ontario over the period. According to Census data, from 1996 to 2016, the proportion of immigrant women aged 15 to 44 increased by 8 percentage points in Quebec (from 9% to 17%), and by 3 percentage points in Ontario (from 25% to 28%).

The contribution of these compositional changes to the relative increase in female labour force participation in Quebec from 1996 to 2016 can be quantified using the Oaxaca–Blinder decomposition technique. From 1996 to 2016, the female labour force participation rate in Quebec among those aged 15 to 44 increased by 11 percentage points, from 70% to 81%. Over the same period, the female labour force participation rate in Ontario was little changed (from 74% to 75%). Results indicate that if Quebec and Ontario had had the same age structure, educational attainment and foreign-born population in 2016 as in 1996, female labour force participation would have increased by the same amount in Quebec (11 percentage points), and female labour force participation in Ontario would have decreased by a single percentage point.Note Therefore, these compositional factors do not account for the divergent trajectories of female labour force participation in Quebec and Ontario.

Lastly, another possible factor affecting the labour force participation of these two groups of women is that wage growth was stronger in Quebec than in Ontario, giving women in Quebec a greater incentive to participate in the labour market. However, the real hourly wages of female workers increased at a similar pace in Quebec and in Ontario between 1997 and 2016. Specifically, the average hourly wages of female workers increased by 17% in Quebec (from $18.60 in 1997 to $21.83 in 2016) and by 13% in Ontario (from $20.16 to $22.82). Compositional and wage factors therefore do not account for the divergent trajectories of female labour force participation in Quebec and Ontario that have recently emerged.

Conclusion

Since the mid-2000s, trends in fertility rates and female labour force participation in Quebec and Ontario have diverged. Both the total fertility rate and the labour force participation rate of women aged 15 to 44 rose in Quebec vis-à-vis Ontario. In 2016, the total fertility rate was 1.59 children per woman in Quebec, compared with 1.46 children per woman in Ontario, and the rate of female labour force participation was 81% in Quebec, compared with 75% in Ontario. The relative increase in Quebec’s total fertility rate thus occurred concurrently with the relative increase in the province’s female labour force participation rate.

Quebec’s higher total fertility rate largely reflects increased childbearing among women in their twenties. In turn, that pattern partly reflects the fact that women in their twenties are more likely to be part of a common-law couple in Quebec than in Ontario—stemming from greater social acceptance about living common law as an alternative to marriage in Quebec. Scandinavian-inspired family policies implemented in Quebec beginning in the late 1990s may also have resulted in increased fertility at younger ages insofar as they reduce the opportunity costs of having children and/or the price of child care, which in turn facilitate a better combination of earning and caring roles.

Most of the recent increase in the female labour force participation rate in Quebec, relative to Ontario, occurred among women for whom pre-school child care or before- and after-school care is most relevant—i.e., those with young children. The labour force participation of Quebec women whose youngest child was under 13 also increased among those with less than a university degree, suggesting that the province’s family policies make it economically beneficial for those who would presumably earn lower wages to join and remain in the workforce.

Beyond Quebec’s unique social context, there are other factors that may have played a role in the recent increase in female labour force participation in that province relative to Ontario. This study, however, demonstrates that wage growth was the same in Quebec and in Ontario, and that shifts in the population composition of these provinces (i.e., aging and the increasing prevalence of university degree holders and immigrants) do not explain the higher rates of female labour force participation in Quebec since 2003. This reinforces the view that family policies have encouraged mothers of young children in Quebec to participate in the labour market.

Melissa Moyser is a researcher in the Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division at Statistics Canada, and Anne Milan is chief of analysis in the Labour Statistics Division at Statistics Canada.

Start of text box

Data sources, methods and definitions

Data sources

This article uses data from a variety of sources. Total fertility rates, age-specific fertility rates and completed fertility rates are calculated using the Canadian Vital Statistics Birth Database, an administrative survey that collects demographic information annually from all provincial and territorial registries of live births in Canada. The data presented here cover the period from 1926 to 2016.

Labour Force Survey (LFS) data are also used, covering the period from 1976 to 2016. The LFS is a monthly survey of approximately 56,000 households, which collects detailed information from all household members aged 15 and over regarding their labour force participation and employment or unemployment, sociodemographic characteristics and family relationships. Excluded from the survey’s coverage are persons living on reserves and other Aboriginal settlements, full-time members of the Canadian Armed Forces, and the institutionalized population. Together, these groups represent less than 2% of the Canadian population aged 15 and over.

Although the LFS is also conducted in the territories, its data are excluded from this study since a different methodology is used there because of the challenges associated with conducting a survey in small and geographically dispersed communities. In addition, for the purposes of this study, the sample is restricted to women aged 15 to 44 and monthly data are annualized through averaging.

Census of Population data from 1996, 2006 and 2016 are used to examine the household living arrangements of women—whether they are married spouses, common-law partners or not part of a couple, including by immigrant status and visible minority status. Census data are also used for the proportion of immigrants in the population in 1996, as immigrant status was introduced in the LFS beginning in 2006.

Methods

In the last section of this paper, an Oaxaca–Blinder decomposition was used to analyze the joint impact of population composition with respect to age, education and nativity (i.e., foreign-born versus Canadian-born) on the labour force participation rate of women aged 15 to 44. This involved using annualized microdata from the 2016 LFS and regressing (with the ordinary least squares method) a binary indicator of labour force participation (where 1=yes and 0=no) on dummy variables representing age groups (15 to 19; 20 to 24; 25 to 29; 30 to 34; 35 to 39; and 40 to 44); holding a university degree (yes or no); and immigrant status (yes or no). The resulting regression coefficients were then multiplied by the means of the corresponding explanatory variables in 1996 and added to the intercept. Solving this equation yields the hypothetical rate of female labour force participation that would have been observed in 2016 had the population been equivalent to that in 1996 with respect to age, the prevalence of university degree holders and immigrants.

Definitions

Total fertility rate: The average number of children that a woman would have over the course of her reproductive life if she experienced the age-specific fertility rates observed in a particular calendar year. It is based on a compilation of the fertility experiences of many different cohorts of women in a given year. An advantage of the total fertility rate is that it is easily calculated and it is not affected by variations in population size or age structure, allowing for annual and provincial (and international) comparisons.

Age-specific fertility rate (or fertility rate): The number of live births per 1,000 women in a specific age group.

Completed fertility rate: The average number of children born to women belonging to the same birth cohort once they reach the end of their reproductive life. It is equal to the sum of the age-specific fertility rates of a given birth cohort.

Subsidized child care: Public financial assistance to parents intended to lower the cost of child care. In Quebec, subsidized child care takes the form of a reduced contribution, meaning that parents pay a reduced daily rate to participating child care providers, with the balance paid by the provincial government. Since April 22, 2015, an additional contribution applies to parents whose family income exceeds $50,920.

Labour force participation rate: The number of people in a given group who participated in the labour market (i.e., who were either employed or unemployed), expressed as a percentage of the population for that group.

End of text box

Start of text box

Trends in fertility rates and labour force participation in the provinces and territories other than Quebec and Ontario

Variation in fertility and female labour force participation exists not only between Quebec and Ontario, but throughout Canada.

Among the provinces and territories, only Nunavut had a total fertility rate above replacement level (2.99 children per woman) in 2016. The total fertility rate was also relatively high in Saskatchewan (1.93), Manitoba (1.85) and the Northwest Territories (1.79). These provinces and territories are characterized by relatively larger Aboriginal populations, who, in turn, have higher fertility rates. In contrast, in 2016 the total fertility rate was lowest in British Columbia (1.40), and Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia (1.42 for each)—provinces characterized by older populations (Table 1).


Table 1
Total fertility rate, number of births and average age of mother at first and for all births, Canada, provinces and territories, 2016
Table summary
This table displays the results of Total fertility rate. The information is grouped by Region of residence (appearing as row headers), Total fertility rate, Number of births, Average age of mother, At first birth and All births, calculated using Children per woman, Thousands and Year units of measure (appearing as column headers).
Region of residence Total fertility rate Number of births Average age of mother
At first birth All births
Children per woman Thousands Year
Canada 1.54 383.1 29.2 30.8
Newfoundland and Labrador 1.42 4.4 27.9 29.5
Prince Edward Island 1.58 1.4 28.1 30.0
Nova Scotia 1.42 8.3 28.2 29.8
New Brunswick 1.55 6.6 27.5 29.1
Quebec 1.59 86.3 29.0 30.6
Ontario 1.46 140.4 29.8 31.3
Manitoba 1.85 16.9 27.6 29.6
Saskatchewan 1.93 15.6 27.2 29.1
Alberta 1.69 55.9 28.7 30.4
British Columbia 1.40 45.3 30.3 31.6
Yukon 1.62 0.4 29.2 30.9
Northwest Territories 1.79 0.6 27.8 29.5
Nunavut 2.99 0.9 22.4 26.4

A higher total fertility rate generally coincides with a lower average maternal age at first birth. Nationally, in 2016 the average age of first-time mothers was 29.2 years. Among the provinces and territories, British Columbia had the oldest average age of first-time mothers, at 30.3 years. Ontario was the only other province to have an average age of mother at first birth (29.8 years) that was above the overall age for Canada. The youngest average age of mothers at first birth was in Nunavut (22.4 years), followed by Saskatchewan (27.2 years). These patterns were similar for the average age at total births.

Labour force participation for women aged 15 to 44 also varied across the country. Historically, over the past 40 years, women in Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia have had higher participation rates than women in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec. In 2016, however, Quebec had the highest female labour force participation rate among the provinces (81%), followed by the Maritime provinces. The rate was also higher in Saskatchewan (78%) than the national rate (77%). The lowest female participation rates were in Ontario and in British Columbia (75% for each). The rate was below that for Canada as a whole in Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Manitoba (76%).

End of text box
Related information

Related articles

Data sources

Bibliographic references

Date modified: