Canada just had its lowest number of births in 17 years. What’s behind it?

The number of babies born in Canada dropped to a 17-year-low last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic and a declining fertility rate, data shows.

A Statistics Canada report released Tuesday showed there were 351,679 births registered across the country in 2022, which was a five per cent decrease from the previous year. This was Canada’s sharpest drop recorded since 2005.

Before 2022, the lowest number of births recorded was in 2005, with 345,044 babies born nationwide.

While the number of births in all provinces and territories declined last year, Nova Scotia was the notable outlier with a 12.8 per cent increase in live births.

The biggest decrease was in Nunavut, with the number of births dropping 11.8 per cent compared with 2021.

Canada, like many other developed countries, has been seeing declining birth trends over the past several years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has affected many people’s plans to have kids, said Kate Choi, an associate professor of sociology at Western University.

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“Although the fertility decline was indeed part of a larger trend of fertility decreases that have been occurring in Canada, the magnitude of the decrease is larger than what we would have anticipated in the absence of COVID-19,” she told Global News in an interview.


Click to play video: 'Infertility: Shedding light on a common problem'


Infertility: Shedding light on a common problem


The high cost of living has magnified the size of the drop in births, Choi said.

“It’s very expensive to have children and right now, when everything is expensive, it’s very hard for young adults to be able to have the type of lifestyle that allows them to have children, which is contributing to delayed and forgone fertility,” she added.

It’s a concerning trend for Canada, according to Choi, who said decreasing birth rates have the potential to exacerbate population aging issues.

Canada is considered a low-fertility country and its fertility rate has been declining over the past decade.

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The latest Statistics Canada data from 2021 reported a fertility rate of 1.44 children per woman that year — marking a slight increase following a steady decline since 2009.

The fertility rate is an estimate of the average number of live births a female can be expected to have in her lifetime, according to StatCan.

As some couples delay their plans to have kids for a variety of reasons, egg freezing and other fertility treatments are on the rise in Canada.


Click to play video: 'More IVF babies born after summer egg collection: study'


More IVF babies born after summer egg collection: study


Lifestyle changes and work decisions are contributing factors, with a shift toward smaller families, said Mark Rosenberg, an expert in geography and professor emeritus at Queen’s University.

“I think mainly the factors we should focus on are first and foremost women’s decisions around the labour force and delaying birth until they’re in their 30s,” he told Global News in an interview.

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There is also an increasing number of younger people living in single-person households, Rosenberg added.

Despite the drop in births, Canada’s population has been growing at a “record-setting pace,” surpassing the milestone of 40 million people earlier this year, due to a focus on increasing immigration.

Meanwhile, the StatCan report Tuesday also showed a rise in the proportion of babies who were born with a low birth weight — less than 2,500 grams.

Seven per cent of all babies had a low birth weight in 2022 compared with 6.6 per cent the year before.

Babies with a low birth weight are at an increased risk of complications, such as inhibited growth and development and even death, according to StatCan.

“When we see higher rates of low birth weight babies or higher rates of babies that are born who are overweight, those are issues that we should be concerned about because they reflect on people’s health,” Rosenberg said.

— with files from Global News’ Katherine Ward

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