The average size of the Canadian family has dropped since the 1970s. In 1971 families had an average of 3.7 persons; since 1986, the average has remained constant at 3.1 persons. Contemporary Canadian families are similar in size to those in the United States, where an average of 3.2 persons made up the American family in 2000 (Fields and Casper 2000). These small family sizes are mainly a result of lower fertility and reduced childbearing, as showed by lower birth rates.
In fact, birth rates have been dropping in most industrialized countries since the latter part of the nineteenth century. These rates have fluctuated slightly over that period. For instance, after World War II (roughly 1946–1966), both Canada and the United States experienced high birth rates in what people refer to as the postwar baby boom. During this boom, the total fertility rate (TFR)—the average number of children a woman is likely to bear in her lifetime—peaked at 3.94 children in 1959, and actual birth rates peaked in 1957 (Péron et al. 1999).
The Canadian TFR dropped dramatically from its height in the 1960s, and fertility remained fairly stable through the mid-1970s to the end of the millennium. After 1976, the rate fluctuated between 1.8 and 1.6, although 1998 saw a slight drop in TFR to 1.55 births (Bélanger et al. 2001). These rates have varied across the country, illustrating Canada's regional and ethnic diversity. In 1998 Newfoundland had the lowest fertility rate in Canada, at 1.2 births per woman. In the same year Nunavut, a region with a high proportion of Aboriginal peoples, had a fertility rate of three births per woman.
Canadian women give birth to more children than do women in many European countries. This is largely because of high rates of immigration from high-fertility countries. Still, the Canadian fertility rate is below that of the United States, where in 1997 American women were estimated to bear
2.06 children in their lifetimes (Bélanger 1999).
Not only are Canadian couples having fewer children than in the past; they are also having children later in life. Many Canadian women now wait until they are in their late twenties or early thirties before having their first child. The mother's age at childbirth, which varies by region and ethnicity, also varies according to social and economic status. Women who have children early typically have less education and fewer job skills (therefore, lower job possibilities and less income potential). Young mothers are also more likely to be unmarried, so many must deal with the economic difficulties associated with single parenthood.