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A. Change in births

For a sixth consecutive year, the number of live births in Canada increased, reaching 377,886 in 2008. However, this annual increase of 2.7% was less pronounced than the growth registered in the previous two years, namely 3.6% in 2006 and 3.7% in 2007 (Chart 1).

Over the past 20 years, Canada has seen both upward and downward trends in the number of births. After peaking in 1990 at 405,486 births, the number of births fell steadily throughout the 1990s. In 2000, there were 327,882 registered births, the lowest level since the end of the Second World War. With the exception of 2002, there has been an upward trend in the number of births since 2001, with a slowing in 2008 when compared to the two previous years.

A.1. Geographic differences

From 2007 to 2008, the number of births rose in all provinces and territories except the Northwest Territories (Table 1). Eight provinces and one territory had relative increases exceeding the national average of 2.7%. The largest were in Newfoundland and Labrador (7.6%), Prince Edward Island (6.8%) and Yukon (5.1%). In Newfoundland and Labrador this is the fourth consecutive year of growth and the largest increase since 2005. On the other hand, a first sign of slowing in the increase of births was observed in 2008, mainly in Ontario and the Western provinces.

In 2008, three provinces accounted for 76% of the total increase in the number of births. Quebec was the largest contributor with 35% of the total increase, followed by Ontario (23%) and Alberta (18%). In 2007 Alberta led with 29%, followed by Ontario (21%), Quebec (18%), and British Columbia (14%).

B. Change in fertility

The total fertility rate (TFR) is the sum of single-year, age-specific fertility rates during a given year. It represents the average number of children that a woman would have if the current age-specific fertility rates prevail over her reproductive period.

In 2008, the TFR was 1.68 children per woman (Table 2). This is the highest TFR recorded since 1992, when it was 1.69. However, the TFR is well below the generational replacement level of 2.1 children per woman—the fertility rate that must be maintained to replace the population in the absence of migration. The last year that the total fertility rate exceeded the generational replacement level was 1971. 1 

In the past twenty years, the TFR has closely paralleled the trend in number of births (Chart 2). After peaking in 1990 at 1.71 children per woman, the TFR fell throughout the 1990s and then began climbing at the beginning of the 2000s. The drop in the TFR (and the number of births) in 2000 and the recovery in 2001 may have been related to the desire to have a baby in the first year of the new millennium. The number of marriages also increased in 2000. 2 

With the exception of 2002, the TFR has seen an upward trend since 2001 (Table 2). The TFR rose 1.3% from 2007 to 2008, a smaller increase than those observed the two previous years, where the increases were 2.8 % and 4.6 %, respectively.

In 2008, Nunavut had the highest fertility in the country, with a TFR of 2.98 children per woman, ensuring the generational replacement level. In contrast, British Columbia had the lowest TFR with 1.51 children per woman (Table 2).

Other provinces and territories with a TFR lower than the national average of 1.68 children per woman were Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario, New Brunswick and Yukon. On the other hand, the Northwest Territories and Saskatchewan were the two other regions where fertility was higher than two children per woman, 2.08 and 2.05 respectively. This may be explained by the fact that Aboriginal people made up the largest share of the population in the territories and in the Prairie provinces 3  and it is known that Aboriginal population is a relatively young population with a higher fertility than the non-Aboriginal population.

From 2007 to 2008, the TFR rose in all provinces and territories except the Northwest Territories, British Columbia and Manitoba. The largest increase was observed in Newfoundland and Labrador, with 0.12 children per woman more than in 2007. Five other regions (Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Yukon) had a larger percentage change than the national average. On the other hand, increases below the national average were registered in Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Nunavut.

B.1. Age of mother and age-specific fertility rate

The average age of Canadian women who gave birth in 1991 was 27.7 years. In subsequent years it increased to reach 29.3 years in 2006 where it has since remained stable. The lowest average age of women who gave birth in 2008 was observed in Nunavut (24.4 years) while the highest was in Ontario and British Columbia (30.0 years).

From 1988 to 2008, there have been significant changes in the trend of age-specific fertility rates in Canada. The past twenty years saw an overall decline in the total fertility rate of Canadian women in their twenties, while that of women in their thirties increased steadily. In 2006, the fertility rate of women aged 30 to 34 surpassed the fertility rate of those aged 25 to 29 (Chart 3).

From 2006 to 2008, all age-specific fertility rates of Canadian women increased. For a fourth consecutive year, the fertility rate was highest for women aged 30 to 34 (107.4 births per 1,000 women in 2008). This rate was also the highest since 1965 (119 births per 1,000 women). In addition, since 2006, the increase in the fertility rate of women aged 30 to 34 was larger than for those aged 25 to 29, widening the gap between these two age groups.

Although the fertility of females aged 15 to 19 has risen slightly in recent years, the level in 2008 (14.3 births per 1,000 women) was 1.6 times lower than in 1988 (23.0 births per 1,000 women).

The fertility of women aged 40 to 44 has more than doubled from 1988 to 2008, going from 3.6 to 8.4 per 1,000 women. A recent study found that the length of schooling is an important factor in explaining that increase. 4  The study also indicates that immigrant women, who are more likely to have a university degree, are also more likely to have a young child when they are in their forties. The demographic share of these women is increasing due to steady immigration levels since the beginning of the 1990's 5 .

In 2008, among the 10 provinces and females aged 29 years and under, Saskatchewan had the highest fertility rates. For women aged 30 to 34, the fertility rate was highest in Alberta. Ontario had the highest rate for women aged 35 to 39 and British Columbia for women aged 40 years and over.

B.2. Analysing 2008 fertility rates

Two factors could account for the increase in the number of births in recent years: an increase in the number of women of childbearing age and a rise in fertility rates.

By applying age-specific fertility rates (ASFRs) for 2007 to the female population in 2008, it is possible to estimate how much of the increase in births in 2008 can be attributed to changes in the size of the population compared with changes in fertility rates (Table 3).

If there had been no change in age-specific fertility rates from 2007 to 2008, the expected number of births in 2008 would have been 372,620, or 4,756 more births than in 2007. In fact, from 2007 to 2008, there was an increase of 10,022 births. The additional 5,266 births can therefore be attributed to changes in fertility. Also, the greatest change in fertility rate between 2007 and 2008 is found in women aged 30 to 39.

C. Historical and recent birth trends

The period from the end of the Second World War to the mid-1960s witnessed a dramatic increase in the fertility rates, the result of which was the baby boom phenomenon.

In 1947, when the TFR was 3.6 children per woman—the highest rate since 1921 6 —the number of births totalled 372,600 and the crude birth rate was 28.9 births per 1,000 population.

At the height of the baby boom in 1959, when the TFR was 3.9 children per woman, annual births exceeded 479,000, the highest number recorded since comparable Canada-wide vital statistics were first compiled in 1921 (Chart 4).

The annual number of births remained high for a few more years, and then dropped sharply starting in 1964. This period of low numbers of births, known as the baby bust, 7  lasted for approximately 10 years until the mid-1970s, reaching its lowest level in 1973.

The first baby boom "echo" 8  was expected in the mid-1970s, approximately 25 years after the beginning of the baby boom. But while there was a sizable increase in the number of births in 1974 and 1975, gains in the following years were relatively modest. Only in the late 1980s (1988 to 1990) was there a substantial rise in the number of births.

From 1988 to 1995, Canada experienced a large number of births. Specifically, births peaked at 405,486 in 1990. Thereafter, annual births dropped, falling to 327,882 in 2000, which was less than the lowest number in the baby bust period.

Between 2002 and 2008, Canada has seen a continuous upward trend in the number of births. Part of the recent increase in births could be explained by the fact that many women from the baby boomer's children's generation have now entered their childbearing years, as well as by the increase in fertility rates. Total fertility rate increased from 1.50 children per woman in 2002 to 1.68 in 2008.

D. Comparison with selected low-fertility countries

A low-fertility country is one in which the total fertility rate (TFR) is below or near the generational replacement level (2.1 children per woman). Low fertility is a phenomenon that Canada shares with many countries. Moreover, the recent rise in the number of births in Canada parallels trends in several other low-fertility OECD countries, which have also experienced an upturn in fertility in recent years (Table 4).

From 2004 to 2008, the TFR increased in the 15 selected OECD countries (see Table 4). In Canada, the increase in fertility was modest until 2006, whereas in 2007, there was a surge which subsequently slowed. Between 2006 and 2007, two other countries, the Czech Republic and Australia, had a stronger increase in fertility than Canada and a slight slowdown between 2007 and 2008.

From 2007 to 2008, all the selected OECD countries saw their fertility rise, except the United States, for which the total fertility rate went from 2.12 to 2.08 children per woman.

E. Change in stillbirths

The number of stillbirths (or fetal deaths) in Canada was 2,774 in 2008, an increase of 137 stillbirths (5.2%) from 2007.

The stillbirth rate also went up slightly from 7.1 per 1,000 total births (live births and stillbirths) in 2007 to 7.3 in 2008. From 1991 to 2006, stillbirth rates fluctuated at around 6.0 per 1,000 total births. However, the late stillbirth rate (fetal deaths at 28 or more weeks of gestation) peaked at 3.8 per 1,000 total births in 1992 and then decreased to 3.1 in 2008.