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She’s (Not) Having a Baby: Why Half of Canadian Women Are Falling Short of Their Fertility Desires


Canada’s fertility rate is 1.4 children per woman. Why is it so low? One major factor is that women are having fewer kids than they say they want. “Missing” births are a significant problem:

  • What Women Want: Through our Angus Reid Group survey of 2,700 women in Canada aged 18-44, we learned that nearly half of women in Canada have fewer children than they desire—0.5 children fewer, on average.
  • Unfulfilled Desires: Women intend to have, on average, 1.85 children per woman, but desire 2.2 children, on average. Meanwhile, intended and desired births are both lower than in previous surveys.
  • Regional Differences: The Prairie provinces are the only place in Canada where women actually intend to have at least two children. Women in the Atlantic provinces want the fewest children. In every province, women intend to have fewer children than they say would be ideal for them.
  • Life Satisfaction: Both “missing” and “excess” children make women unhappier. Women with more kids than they wanted have the lowest life satisfaction, but the share of these women is much smaller than the share with “missing” children. So, “missing” children are at least as significant a factor in women’s happiness as “excess” children.
  • Income: As family income rises, so does a woman’s “ideal” family size. Having children in Canada is becoming more associated with wealth than it is in other countries, or than it was in Canada in the past. Poorer Canadian women don’t want, don’t intend, and aren’t having as many children.
  • Why Women Have Fewer Kids Than They Want: According to women in Canada under age 30, the top five factors that most decrease their chances of having a child in the next two years are:
    1. Wanting to grow as a person
    2. Wanting to save money
    3. Focusing on career
    4. Believing that kids require intense care
    5. Having no suitable partner in a tie with Wanting more leisure

So what do we do about all this?

  • Policymakers could shift away from the myth that women always want to prevent pregnancy or have fewer children, and try to directly support women starting their families.
  • Policymakers could try to address the concerns that block women’s family goals by:
    1. Helping women complete higher education and get a stable job faster
    2. Addressing high housing costs by expanding housing supply
    3. Removing marriage penalties from income-adjusted programs
  • Government or civil society Initiatives aimed at parents should focus less on giving parents a to-do list and focus more on messages of empowerment and competence.
  • Canadians could come to a cultural understanding that “Parenting is something virtually every adult is able to do well.”

She’s (Not) Having a Baby: Why Half of Canadian Women Are Falling Short of Their Fertility Desires is freely available online.


Media Contact

Daniel Proussalidis

Director of Communications