The disappearing third child

Shannon Roberts
July 4, 2016
Reproduced with Permission
Demography is Destiny

Do you feel free to have as many children as you want? If not, what obstacles get in the way? These are just some of the questions that The Canada Family Life Project recently sought to find out.

A majority of Canadians say that they want to have three children (averaging out at 2.76 per couple), however most only have two (averaging out at 2.27 per couple). For various reasons most Canadians do not end up having the third child they say they want. The number one obstacle to doing so faced by those surveyed was money, followed by age and infertility or health. The study also notes that in the past children were economic assets and could, for example, help out on a family farm. However parents today often view children as a large expense.

Many Canadians obviously feel that each new child will be a big financial undertaking. Indeed, recent reports state that just under half of Canadians believe they are within $200 a month of being able to pay their bills. However many Canadians also surely have large amounts of unnecessary things and one commentator recently asked whether conspicuous consumption might be a cause of plummeting birth rates. While hopefully the joy of having children looms larger, parents might also do well to remember that in various cultures around the world it is the norm that children 'reciprocate' their parents love and care in old age.

The second most common reason Canadians are not having as many children as they say they want, or perhaps any children at all, is struggle with infertility or age-related health factors. The study found that the pursuit of higher education often delays women from having children, thus increasing the chance of infertility issues. A decreased interest in having children could also be related to increasing uncertainty around marriage and the stability of relationships.

Less than half of Canadians felt that society was doing a good job at promoting being able to have the number of children they want. What would help Canadians achieve the number of children they would like to? Interestingly, only a miniscule 3.1 percent said arranging for childcare or daycare was a challenge to having the number of children they wanted. Instead, a majority said that cash payments made directly to parents to choose any sort of child care arrangement they wish, including having a parent stay at home, was the most beneficial and attractive option for their family. The second most popular choice was to change the tax system to provide all parents with a child tax deduction whether they work or stay at home.

Given the looming economic problems governments around the world face due to low fertility rates, more politicians may soon sit up and listen more closely to the interests of families. Obviously ever more millions spent on providing daycare is not high on the list of Canadian family priorities. However, finances and choice are.