Wednesday, July 03, 2002

No need to worry over falling birth rate

Canadian Press

TORONTO -- Statistics Canada says the country's fertility rate is falling compared with that of the United States, but it is still well above other developed countries, Prof. David Foot said Wednesday.

"We are still way above almost all other developed countries," said Foot, of the economics department at the University of Toronto and co-author of the best-selling Boom, Bust and Echo. "So if we are going to wring our hands over our low fertility rate, why do we compare ourselves to the only other developed country in the world that has a higher fertility rate."

Foot cited Italy, Spain, Germany and Japan as having lower fertility rates than Canada.

For a century, Canada's fertility rate was higher than that of the United States, but that has changed sharply, Statistics Canada reported Wednesday.

"In 1999, Canadian fertility hit a record low of 1.52 children per woman, compared with the American rate of 2.08, a difference of more than half a child per woman," the report said. "Only 20 years ago, this gap was less than one-third of that size."

Canada's growth is now about three-quarters of U.S. growth and projections indicate the American growth rate will continue to be higher. Foot said that is largely due to the Hispanic population in the U.S.

Most of the difference between the two countries is attributed to the declining birth rate of Canadian women aged 20 to 29, says Statistics Canada.

"From 1979 to 1999, the fertility of Canadian women aged 20 to 24 decreased nearly 40 per cent and fertility among those aged 25 to 29 declined about 25 per cent. In the United States, fertility rates among women in these age groups remained relatively stable."

American women aged 20 to 24 have a fertility rate 75 per cent higher than that of Canadian women of the same age. Among of women aged 25 to 29, the American fertility rate was 15 per cent higher.

Also teen pregnancy rates are higher in the U.S than in Canada and other industrialized countries.

The report suggested that Canadian women use better contraceptive methods, with more than eight in 10 opting for birth control pills, a method used by fewer than one in six American women.

"That's an education thing and an availability thing," said Foot. The U.S. has a higher percentage of poorer women who don't have access to better birth control, he said.

Clinics allow many unemployed Canadian women access to birth control pills at a fraction of the cost.

"So if anything this is a celebration of Canada's success, not the opposite."

The report also suggested younger Canadian women may delay child-bearing as unemployment rates for young Canadians is higher than young Americans. And as women put off having children until later in life, families are smaller.

However, Foot said it may have a lot more to do with education than unemployment.

"Essentially if you educate women, they have other options, especially in the workplace, and they delay having children," said Foot.

Fertility rates among women aged 30 and over have increased at nearly the same pace in the two countries. In Canada, this increase did not offset the decline in the fertility rates of younger women.

Overall, in 1999, Canada's population growth rate was 8.6 per 1,000, compared with 12.3 in the United States. About 337,200 babies were born in Canada in 1999. Had Canada's fertility rate been the same as that of the United States, the country would have had an estimated additional 123,000 births, bringing the population growth rate to 12.7 per 1,000.

Low birth rates mean that immigration has become the main contributor to population growth. At present levels, deaths are expected to exceed births in Canada in about 20 to 25 years. U.S. population projections indicate that births will continue to exceed deaths for the next 50 years.

The slower population growth will lead to the slower growth of the economy, said Foot. But he added that this situation is gradual, predictable and we can adjust.

Fewer younger people entering the workforce will lead to more technology and less people.

"We've already seen that in Japan," said Foot. "That can raise productivity . . . so it doesn't mean we necessarily have a declining per capita income."

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