Albertans should expect a baby bust — not boom — and fewer people tying the knot, statistics reveal

Experts say there’s evidence the number of people getting married or having kids could be declining Canada-wide, and according to statistics from the province's registry, that is definitely the case for Alberta.

Marriages and child births were slowing down even before COVID-19 pandemic

According to statistics from Alberta's registry, births have been steadily dropping in recent years. (Dragan Grkic/Shutterstock)

It has been said anecdotally that the COVID-19 pandemic would bring a wave of baby and wedding announcements. But experts say that's not the case — there's evidence the number of people tying the knot or having kids could actually be declining Canada-wide.

"With this COVID-19 pandemic … I would not be surprised by an absolute baby bust rather than a baby boom," said Laura Wright, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Saskatchewan.

And such was indeed the case in Alberta for 2020.

According to statistics from the province's registry, the number of registered births has actually been steadily dropping in recent years.

In 2015, the total registered births was 56,750. Each year after that saw fewer births than the previous year, and by 2020, the number of registered births was 48,996.

The number of registered marriages was the same story, with 20,509 in 2015, and a drop each year following that. In 2019, there were 18,119 marriages registered. Then, perhaps unsurprisingly, came a plunge in 2020 with just 14,257 couples tying the knot.

"It's interesting to see the dip in births in 2020, but of course this is probably just the tip of the iceberg," Wright said.

"Remember that we are only able to see the effect of the pandemic on fertility from [December] 2020 or so onward (March 2020 plus 9 months). I expect this to drop even more in 2021."

Laura Wright says she expects some couples who planned to get married but had to delay due to COVID-19 might not make it to the alter later. (Elaine Green Photography)

While there may be many people rescheduling their weddings for a future date, she says that might not be the case for all couples who were planning to get married.

"My guess is that some of them that have been delayed just might not ever happen, either because of a breakup or because, you know, there's lots of other ways to live together in a committed relationship," Wright said.

Rachel Margolis, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Western Ontario, says most experts agree this trend is likely for both marriages and births Canada-wide, too.

"Basically, people who were planning on having kids this year probably delayed their pregnancies. We know that IVF treatment stopped for a really long time in most parts of the country," Margolis said.

The possibility for lower birth rates throughout the country might also be due to Canada not reaching its immigration targets for the year, Margolis says.

"Immigrants are more likely to be in childbearing years. So there's pretty strong consensus that we think that there's going to be a big birth dearth this year and next year," she said.

"We feel pretty confident that there will be a decline in marriages and births, but there's no data yet."

Divorces and separations appear to be rising

While Statistics Canada stopped collecting statistics on the number of divorces and separations in 2008, the agency told CBC News it's working on integrating it back into its collection process.

However, the Centre for Demography does collect population estimates by marital status. According to those statistics, the number of people across Canada who are considered legally separated or whose legal marital status is divorced (both categories include living common law) has also been been inching up over the years. The same goes for Alberta.

Family lawyer Farrah Kohorst says the firm she works for has been much busier than in 2019, with caseloads picking up. (Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock)

Farrah Kohorst, a family lawyer in Calgary who often deals with divorces, says anecdotally that the law office she works for has been much busier than previously.

"I know our office is probably about 20 per cent busier than we were in 2019," she said, adding there wasn't much activity in the first few months after the pandemic hit.

"But probably starting in May, June, July … we've had more client calls than we ever have before."

Kohorst says the firm has hired two more lawyers, and she says it's not infrequent for prospective clients to be told the team has no capacity to take on any more files.

However, she says the increase in work is twofold — while they are experiencing an increase in divorce cases, they're also receiving an increase in cohabitation and prenuptial agreements.

Kohorst suspects that's partly because people may be deciding to move their relationships along faster than they otherwise would for financial reasons.

"Maybe somebody lost their job," she said.

Kohorst added that one of the top reasons for divorce is financial stress.

"Divorce rates are highest when finances are really, really bad, because that's essentially what the pandemic has done, right?," Kohorst said.

"[The caseload] is difficult to manage and we're constantly turning down files."

Gender inequality a factor

Wright says one more reason why there may be fewer births and fewer marriages is due to the way COVID-19 has affected gender equality.

"COVID is absolutely increasing gender inequality on so many levels.… In terms of employment, we know that women are losing jobs more and more than men are losing jobs," Wright said.

"Women are much more likely to voluntarily step out of the workforce during this pandemic compared to men."

She added that women are also taking on a lot of the brunt of unpaid child care and unpaid housework.

"We know that when women feel like the situation is unequal or they're unhappy with the amount of unpaid work that they're doing, they often don't opt to have another child."