British Columbia

B.C. sees biggest changes in maternal age — researchers blame housing prices

Across Canada, women are waiting longer to have their first child, but B.C. has seen the biggest demographic shifts in first-time mothers. 

Delaying starting a family also means some women run out of time to have a second child

Factors like housing costs are keeping some women in B.C. from having children until they're older. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

British Columbia is leading the country in changes to maternal age, and researchers say the province's housing crisis is partly to blame. 

According to a recent report from the University of Calgary, women across Canada are waiting longer to have children. The report says B.C. has seen the largest demographic shift in mothers. 

Between 2000 and 2017, the number of mothers in B.C. aged 35 to 39 increased by 60 per cent. During that same time, the number of mothers aged 40 to 44 doubled.

According to Statistics Canada, the average age of first-time mothers is the highest in B.C — 31.6, compared to a national average of 29.2. 

Less income, pricier housing

UBC professor Paul Kershaw, founder of research and advocacy group Generation Squeeze, says the numbers don't come as a surprise. 

"This is the province where hard work pays off the least for younger people in their prime childbearing years," Kershaw said.

Statistics Canada says women are having fewer babies later in life than they did in decades ago. (Pond 5)

Kershaw's research looks at how today's young adults compare to a generation ago.

He found that full-time incomes of British Columbians have dropped the most in Canada during that time. Meanwhile, he says, housing prices have increased the most.

The result is that it takes longer for adults to feel established and financially secure enough to start a family, he said. Kershaw points out that the longer women wait, the more likely they are to face their biological clocks. 

'Mother Nature is the ultimate decider'

Nora Spinks, CEO of Ontario-based family research group the Vanier Institute, said women can only wait so long to have a child. 

"Mother Nature is the ultimate decider in all of this," Spinks said. 

According to Statistics Canada, the average age of first-time mothers is 31.6, compared to a national average of 29.2.  (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Delaying starting a family also means some women run out of time to have a second child, she says.

Spinks says other factors that influence maternal age include the increasing amount of post-secondary education needed to ensure a good career, and people taking longer to establish long-term relationships

Victim blaming

Some critics say young people waste too much of their incomes on daily luxuries such as lattes and avocado toast instead of building up their savings to buy a house and start a family. 

But Kershaw warns against blaming women and young people instead of the systemic economic pressures that young people face.

"Talk about blaming the victim," Kershaw said. "It's not about selfishness."  

Instead, Kershaw and Generation Squeeze advocate for policy changes that make it easier for young people to support a family.

Kershaw says he wants to see changes; from more purpose-built rental housing to affordable daycare to lower taxes for low to middle-income families. 

"Then you'll better position a younger demographic to establish their financial foundation and then we might see that the age of birthing at least doesn't continue to rise," he said. 

About the Author

Maryse Zeidler

@MaryseZeidler

Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at maryse.zeidler@cbc.ca.

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