Canada’s declining fertility has significant implications on the country’s economic and social stability, says a family studies researcher, adding that boosting awareness of the importance and benefits of marriage could help to reverse the trend.
“Fertility rates have an impact on labour supply and on the state’s ability to meet entitlement obligations such as health care and public pensions,” says Peter Jon Mitchell in his research paper for think tank Cardus, titled “Missing Marriage and the Baby Carriage.”
“Like many Western nations, Canada’s population is aging, with more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 15. This age imbalance will strain the future ability to finance social programs and meet other fiscal obligations,” wrote Mitchell, program director of Family at Cardus.
Lower levels of partnership and fertility may also indicate that some people are not achieving the family life they want, affecting their happiness and overall sense of well-being, he added.
But attempts to counter the decline would need “a corresponding reversal of the trend toward delayed or forgone partnering and marrying,” he wrote.
Citing Statistics Canada census data, Mitchell’s paper shows that between 1996 and 2016, the proportion of married people aged 20–34 dropped from 33.2 percent to 22.8 percent, while the proportion of those not in a marriage or common-law relationship rose from 52.5 percent to 58.8 percent.
Moreover, between 1971 and 2008, the average age of men marrying for the first time rose from 24.4 to 31.0, and for women, from 22.1 to 29.6. In 2019, Canada’s total fertility rate hit a record low, at 1.47, compared to 3.94 in 1959. A rate of 2.1 births per woman is needed for the current population to replace itself.
Meanwhile, studies suggest that a “stable, healthy marriage is correlated with good outcomes for men and women and children,” Mitchell told The Epoch Times.
These include better health outcomes and better recovery rates from heart disease and other ailments, and “part of that is that you have a partner there who’s watching your health, helping you manage your health,” he said.
Married men in particular earn a higher income, possibly due to their motivation to provide for their family, Mitchell noted from the studies. Children raised in stable two-parent families also do better in terms of cognitive and other benefits.
Mitchell said the approach to improving the fertility rate should be geared toward identifying and removing economic and other barriers facing young adults. He also stressed the value of educating young people on the importance and benefits of marriage in schools.
“It’s not that everybody needs to get married, but I think young adults do benefit from having that information, and then they can make … decisions for their own lives,” he said.
“But if you don’t have that information to begin with, you might not know what those benefits are.”
Changing View of Marriage
Mitchell said economic and cultural issues are likely what’s causing the decline in marriage and fertility.
“Economically, young adults are getting to the markers of adulthood later in life than they used to. Spending more time in school, [or having] more difficulty finding stable employment, these things do affect the ability to enter into marriage and stable partnership,” he said.
“On the other side, I think how we view marriage and enter into marriage has changed and shifted over the last number of decades.”
He pointed to an article by University of Virginia sociology professor Brad Wilcox titled “Soulmate Marriage, R.I.P,” published last year by the Institute for Family Studies, stating that a “soulmate” view has now taken precedence among young adults.
In his article, Wilcox explains that the soulmate model “assumes marriage’s primary function is to build and sustain an intense romantic or emotional connection that should last only as long as it remains happy, fulfilling, and life-giving to the self.”
“This adult-centred model—expressed in a thousand romcoms, pop songs, and self-help books—has played a central role in the popular imagination since it took off in the ’70s, amidst a decade known for ‘expressive individualism.’
“One survey found that 94 percent of never-married singles wanted their spouse to be a soulmate ‘first and foremost—surpassing matters of religion, economics, and the ability to be a good mother or father,” he added.
Mitchell said the changing attitude toward marriage likely reflects the individualistic nature of modern culture in many ways.
‘More Work, Fewer Babies’
Mitchell also cited a study titled “More Work, Fewer Babies: What Does Workism Have to Do With Falling Fertility” which found that people are increasingly prioritizing work and career over family as a source of meaning in life.
“This idea of work is that the value we put on work and the value we derive from work may be actually redirecting some of our energy away from family life,” Mitchell said. “So much attention to work, so much attention to long hours in building a career, … can perhaps have a negative effect on marriages and entering into marriages.”
The shifting cultural attitudes have also seen more couples viewing marriage as a “capstone,” he said.
It’s a term originated from Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, who argues that people today often choose to establish their careers and secure “other markers of stability” before entering into marriage.
“That delays marriage. And then for people who may not be in a position to accomplish those other parts of life, they may just never get married,” Mitchell said.