USask graduate student Jessica Jack studies medical anthropology in the College of Arts and Science. (Photo: Submitted)

USask research examines Canada's shift to later parenthood

A USask researcher examines why Canadians are choosing to become parents later, and the impacts this can have on individuals, the economy and politics.

University of Saskatchewan (USask) graduate student Jessica Jack is investigating why Canadian adults are choosing to have children later in life — or not at all — and the impacts of these decisions on the economy and political systems across the nation.

The research seeks to understand the intentions of Canadians regarding parenthood and to discover the first steps in developing a support platform for individuals as they make these decisions.

Declining birthrates and rising parental ages around the country have serious impacts on many areas of Canadian life, so understanding why this is happening is key,” said Jack, who is working toward her Master of Arts in anthropology in the department’s medical anthropology stream.

The effects of Canadians becoming parents later in life can be widespread.

“Canadian reproduction has fallen below the rate of replacement, meaning that the population is declining and immigration [rates are] not enough to replace those numbers,” said Jack.

As population numbers decline, this can result in a shrinking workforce, labour shortages, and decreased tax revenue that could impact government programs and service delivery.

“To help mitigate these economic impacts, this research highlights what individuals see as their own barriers to reproduction and provides a platform for change in addressing those barriers.”

Jack interviewed various adults of a typical reproductive age to examine what is driving their decisions regarding timelines for becoming parents — or for not becoming parents. Major themes from the interviews were used to paint a picture of the most common experiences of individuals who are considering starting a family.

Findings indicated that Canadians decide whether to become parents mainly based on three factors – the perceived weight of responsibility, the amount of community support available to them, and current societal norms surrounding the best time for parenthood.

As financial pressures mount and the job market becomes increasingly competitive, Jack found that many potential parents feel that they are expected to wait to complete their post-secondary educations and begin their careers before considering childbearing, or until they can afford or find help from others to support them.

The research provides communities and community leaders with possible solutions to overcoming parenthood barriers, such as reducing the weight of responsibility that comes with childbearing, through increased community support.

Jack said it is also crucial to understand the various reproductive contexts that exist today – such as the challenges facing potential parents in the 2SLGBTQ+ community – and the importance of these contexts in decision-making.

The research is novel in that it examines a wide array of reproductive perspectives in Saskatchewan, including mothers, fathers, non-parents, and parents in the 2SLGBTQ+ community. To date, there has been only minimal reproductive decision research conducted in the province.

The work is part of a wider SSHRC-funded project led by Dr. Karen Lawson (PhD) in psychology. It was presented at the Society for Reproductive and Infant Psychology annual conference in 2021.

Jack said the next part of her research will focus on the parenthood choices made by 2SLGBTQ+ people in Saskatchewan and how the cultural shifts of COVID-19 have impacted those decisions.

“Reproduction is such a central concern for humanity in general, as rising population pressure around the globe brings to light many serious concerns centered around the long-term future of the planet,” said Jack.

Jack’s work is supervised by Dr. Pamela Downe (PhD), a USask professor of medical anthropology with a background in maternal health and community-based engagement research.

As the next step in her career, Jack hopes to pursue a doctorate degree focused on health knowledge translation – taking academic research and turning it into applicable, beneficial outcomes for the general population.

The research has been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

This article first ran as part of the 2021 Young Innovators series, an initiative of the USask Research Profile and Impact office in partnership with the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

Brooke Kleiboer is a communications student intern in the USask Research Profile and Impact unit.

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