British Columbia·PRICED OUT

Young B.C. families are having fewer children, opting out of parenthood as cost of living skyrockets

Data from Statistics Canada show 19 per cent of Canadians aged 19 to 45 say they plan on having fewer children than they did prior to the pandemic. Another 14 per cent say they've delayed having children, citing economic pressures and the rising cost of living.

Inflation, housing costs mean having more than one child has become a luxury, say couples

Arden Matthews says despite being engaged, employed and having savings, raising children in Metro Vancouver 'doesn't seem like a real possibility.' (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Everything seems to be getting more expensive. Foodgasoline and housing prices are on the rise while paycheques are slow to keep pace.

The CBC News series Priced Out explains why you're paying more at the cash register and how Canadians are coping with the high cost of everything.

Arden Matthews is 26, engaged to their longtime partner, and has a well-paying job in Vancouver.

Buying a home and settling down to start a family would be a natural next step, but Matthews says the thought of having another mouth to feed is out of reach as the cost of living in B.C. climbs.

"It's a conversation that my partner and I have frequently. We can't really justify even having concrete plans to have a family because the idea of home ownership, or even being able to rent a place with enough space in it to raise a kid in Metro Vancouver seems like a fantasy — it doesn't seem like a real possibility to us at all."

Matthews says it's a sentiment that's become more common among friends and co-workers of the same age — a nagging feeling that having children will be financially unsustainable, even 10 years down the road.

"No one talks about having kids. We all expect maybe one person in a friend group is going to ultimately end up having a kid or two and everyone will be closely involved in that, but that's the closest we can imagine."

Matthews isn't alone. Data from Statistics Canada showed 19 per cent of Canadians age 19 to 45 say they plan on having fewer children than they did prior to the pandemic.

Another 14 per cent say they've delayed having children, citing economic pressures and the rising cost of living.

'It's just not realistic'

Rising costs are hitting young families from just about every direction. In January, Canada's inflation rate hit a 30-year high of 4.8 per cent.

And Greater Vancouver has the highest monthly rents among metropolitan areas in Canada with at least a million people, at an average of $2,498 for a two-bedroom condo. That pocketbook pressure is forcing families to have tough conversations about how many children they can afford.

Parents aren't just priced out of B.C.'s notoriously expensive cities.

In Campbell River on Vancouver Island, 29-year-old Danielle Gaudet dreamed of raising a big family. But after giving birth to her now two-and-half-year-old son Theodore, she says she worries having more children would keep her from providing her son with the lifestyle she dreamed of giving him.

Danielle Gaudet, 29, says she dreamed of having a big family, but the growing cost of living in B.C. means she'll likely only be able to afford having one child. (Submitted by Danielle Gaudet)

"Diapers have gone up five to 10 dollars since I've started buying [them], it's just incredible and I can't keep up," said Gaudet.

"He's such an energetic little guy, but we can't afford gymnastics, we can't afford sports lessons. I'd love to have more children, but it's just not realistic. It really bothers me that my son is going to grow up without siblings and not know that bond that so many people have with their siblings."

'Very realistic conversations'

In July 2021, B.C. became the first province to sign on to the Liberal pledge that would spend $27.2 billion over five years to subsidize daycares.

But Yuting Hsu, a midwife and mother of two in Surrey, says government promises have done little to ease the immense pressure on parents, even dual-income families like her own.

"We love children and we wanted to have more" she said, adding she felt fortunate she was able to use cloth diapers and breastfeed, which cut down costs.

"We still feel the stress financially. I can't imagine for families who need to buy disposable diapers and formula. I have friends who don't have kids and are considering whether to have kids or not, and we have very realistic conversations around this topic."

At 26, Matthews says they know they have time to contemplate starting a family —  but trying to plan years down is difficult when the future feels so uncertain.

"Every year there's a new reason to think about next week and not 10 years from now ... there's just a very solid possibility that there will be a much, much smaller generation in this city because people can't afford kids."

Canada's fertility rate has been steadily declining since 2008, hitting a record low of 1.40 children per woman in 2020. Gaudet says she worries about the implications of a future with fewer children.

"Children are our future and if we're not having babies then where are we going?"

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