Marriage and childbearing avoidance poses a big problem for Canada, and there's a lack of political will to do anything about it, writes Barbara Kay. (Shutterstock/NDAB Creativity)

It’ll Take a Grassroots Movement to Re-Moralize Our Youth and Curb Family Erosion

Another Mother’s Day has come and gone. As florists, jewellers, and purveyors of brunch all across North America happily tot up their profits, it’s a good moment to reflect on our culture’s changing attitude to motherhood.

In my era, the creation of a family was still a natural and desirable follow-on to love and marriage, which, we believed, went together “like a horse and carriage,” as the peppy old song had it. Pretty soon after my cohort embarked on that traditional route, though, it became apparent that the old song pointed to a bitter irony rather than to the presumed eternal verity that inspired it. Between the cultural dominos fashioned from the contraceptive pill and Playboy Magazine, the whole notion of sexual morality and the biology-based family as fundamental pillars of a healthy society came under interrogation—and worse.

Today, marriage and reproduction rates, both plummeting, are in a state of crisis all over the globe. The Macdonald-Laurier Institute has just published an instructive report on Canada’s parlous situation, authored by economist Tim Sargent, deputy executive director of the Centre for the Study of Living Standards, titled “Decline and Fall: Trends in family formation and fertility in Canada since 2001.”
The report is extremely well researched, and an excellent data-rich resource for those seeking objective information. Prescriptively, however, guided by reason rather than realism, it is over-optimistic.

The report is structured around three questions: Do people gain significantly from being part of a family? What are the trends in family formation in Canada? What factors explain these trends? With Gen Z now entering adulthood, this seemed to Sargent “a good moment to take stock of Canadian families” as compared to other G7 countries.

On a number of fronts, Sargent finds, families confer “incredible benefits.” Economically, as one would expect, but also in terms of health: under “marriage protection” (for which there is a large literature), married people are less stressed, less depressed, and less likely to contract cancer or cardiovascular disease. Children in two-parent families enjoy a higher standard of living than children in single-parent families. Moreover, children raised by their biological parents have, on average, better life outcomes than children raised in one-parent families or in step-families.

But these benefits are not incentivizing Canadians to marry. Young Canadians are increasingly delaying leaving home, delaying marriage, or even cohabitation. Since 2001, the proportion of those aged 30–34 who are in a couple dropped by 5.3 percentage points, and the proportion of those aged 25–29 who are in a couple dropped by 10.9 percentage points. As a result, by 2021, slightly more than half of young adults aged 25–29 were neither married nor living common-law. Sixteen percent of women, but almost a quarter of 25- to 34-year-old men, live with their parents, despite being beyond the usual age at which higher education ends.

Those who cohabit or marry are delaying having children or foregoing children altogether. Replacement is 2.2 live births per woman. Canada’s fertility rate for women was only 1.3 in 2022, the lowest ever recorded, the third-lowest in the G7, and significantly lower than the United States or Britain. Before 2008, Sargent writes, it was common for women to delay having children in order to advance their career goals. But after that, fertility rates just kept dropping. Interestingly, teenage pregnancy has “almost vanished”: a woman aged 40–44—statistically a high-risk enterprise—is now more than twice as likely to give birth than is a teenage girl. What we are witnessing, Sargent says, is “a decline in overall lifetime fertility.”

Add to that, family breakup will affect a large minority of Canadian children. “Thus, at each point in the process of forming a couple and having a family, we see worsening trends, and of course the fewer people getting married or cohabiting has negative implications for fertility rates, suggesting further decreases in the future,” Sargent writes.

The report posits a handful of causes for the negative trends. Housing affordability naturally leaps to the fore, followed by “time spent in higher education.” (This is dubious, in my opinion. Couldn’t the opposite be true instead? People who don’t look forward to marriage or family creation have no reason not to stretch out education.) It is on firmer ground with deteriorating “mental well-being.” Gen Z has not been termed the “anxious generation” for nothing. Since 2010, smartphones have brought them easy access to porn, gender-fluidity grooming, blurred lines between political “resistance” and terrorism, and a host of other unhealthy influences.

Finally, Sargent promotes a lack of “hopefulness about the future” as a cause for declining commitment and fertility. But fertility in difficult times does not depend on “hopefulness.” It depends on a collective confidence to carry on in spite of apparent hopelessness. It is true that young adults today have all been groomed to believe the planet is on the verge of boiling over, and human beings, that selfish, energy-gobbling species, is the culprit. But my generation (when birth control—less convenient than the pill, but effective—was already available) lived with the black cloud of the Cold War, the atomic bomb, and “mutually assured destruction” over our heads, yet most of us still yearned to meet The One and have a family of ideally three children.

However dire the external picture, hopefulness springs—or fails to spring—from internal assumptions. Our culture promoted the belief that good—democracy—would prevail over the evils of communism. Those raised in a strong, confident culture will meet the challenges of plague, war, climate, and religion-fuelled terrorism with determination to survive. Such confidence is characterized by a general inclination to reproduce.

Today the cultural zeitgeist is dominated by Marxism, whose anti-family agenda has been thoroughly unpacked in these pages so frequently and competently, Epoch Times readers have no need to be schooled in its dogmas by me. We were taught to take pride in our nation and to venerate the best of the cultural traditions that produced it. Our youth have been trained to hate the civilization they are heir to. They are, in a word, demoralized, and who can blame them?

Sargent’s report recommends government policies to combat the problem. But first the government must recognize that marriage and childbearing avoidance is indeed a problem. Why would they? Our Marxism-friendly government believes it is the sign of a phobic mind to suggest that traditional marriage is better for children than state guardianship. And if there is a dearth of children, what of it? Immigration will fill the gap.

We should not imagine that rationality or evidence-based arguments or even a future “conservative” government can turn back this culturally suicidal clock. It would take a grassroots counter-revolution to re-moralize our demoralized youth. What are the odds?