Birth rates: Canada hits lowest number since 2006

TORONTO —
According to Statistics Canada, 2020 marked the lowest number of annual births in Canada since 2006, with 13,000 fewer births than in 2019.

Last year, there were 358,604 live births across the country, excluding Yukon, for which data was not available.

In the Tuesday release of the numbers, StatCan remarked that while births have been decreasing nationally every year since 2016, this year was the greatest single decline from a previous year. In 2019, around 372,000 births took place.

StatCan noted that these are preliminary birth numbers for 2020, and data could be revised with later releases.

The agency said that there was a number of reasons why births may have decreased in 2020.

“With the onset of the pandemic, decreased international migration because of travel restrictions may have led to fewer births to newcomer parents,” the release stated. “In addition, other social and economic factors from the COVID-19 pandemic (school and daycare closures, job losses, and financial uncertainty) may have led some families to delay having children, which could reduce the number of births later in the year.”

They added that other countries have also seen a birth drop in 2020, with the United States reporting a four per cent decrease, while England and Wales reported a 3.9 per cent decrease from 2019 to 2020.

The highest number of births in a year in Canada within the last 20 years was in 2016, when around 383,000 infants were born.

Another interesting facet of 2020 birth trends was an increase in the number of non-hospital births.

The 7,606 non-hospital births made up 2.1 per cent of all births in the country, which is the highest that proportion has been in more than a decade.

“During the pandemic, there may have been added fears of going into a hospital where COVID-19 patients were being treated, leading more women to choose to birth at home or in a non-medical birthing centre,” the release stated. “This type of trend is not new and has been observed during previous disease outbreaks.”

Non-hospital births increased steadily from 2005-2015 to more than 8,000 annual births. But from 2015-2019, non-hospital births decreased slowly until the jump in 2020.

“This shift indicates that a greater proportion of women were choosing to give birth in the home, a birthing centre or other facility during the pandemic,” the release states.”

On the provincial level, Ontario and Alberta noted the biggest spike in non-hospital births in 2020 in more than a decade.

There were also more non-hospital births in the months immediately after the pandemic started than any other months. StatCan found that from April to May 2020, there were 1,526 non-hospital births, which means that 20 per cent of the entire year’s non-hospital births occurred in just two months.

“This is the highest number of non-hospital births to occur during any two-month period in over a decade,” the release states. “This time frame aligns with the onset of the pandemic, when public health measures were put into place in many provinces and territories to contain the spread of COVID-19.”

Birth rates are still higher now than they were at the start of the century. From 2000 to 2005, the annual number of births in Canada was consistently below 350,000.

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