Forerunner, "WorldWatch," September-October 2005

A Case Study of Canada and the United States

Canada and the United States share more than space on the same continent and a long boundary. Their peoples also enjoy a common language, a similar European heritage, and comparable democratic institutions. Of course, both nations descend from Abraham through Joseph.

The two countries have a long tradition of cooperation. In fact, the forces of convergence have been so great at times that some commentators in the 1950s actually predicted they would ultimately merge. Of course, that degree of consolidation never happened. Current trends lead analysts to see increasing divergence between them. Like many brothers, Canada and America do not see eye-to-eye on everything. For instance, since the late 1960s, the Canadian elite have Europeanized their nation much faster than their counterparts immediately to the south. For instance, Canada's government since the early 1970s has been much more left-of-center than America's.

Nevertheless, Barbara Torrey and Nicholas Eberstadt, ("The Northern America Fertility Divide," Policy Review, August/September 2005, p. 39) speculate that the differences between Canada and America in controversies like "Iraq, missile defense, lumber, gay marriage and marijuana . . . may not be the biggest ones." Underlying all these spats are basic differences in values. The indicators of this more "fundamental" divergence lie in the "steadily increasing differentiation of demographic trends in North America."

The basic demographic indicator of this divergence is the significant variance in total fertility rate (TFR) over that last half century. TFR gives the average number of births a group of women will have during their lifetimes. In 1945, Canada's TFR was 3.0, a full half-child higher than American women's 2.5 children each. Today, however, the American TFR is about 2.00, while the Canadian TFR is 1.49, a significant disparity of 0.51. In other words, "Canadians have 25% fewer children than Americans today." About 20 of those 51 points can be explained by the higher fertility rate of American minorities. What explains the other 31 points?

» Marriage Rate Differences. In part, the 51-point disparity is attributable to Canada's lower marriage rate. Fewer people marry and produce offspring. Both nations' marriage rates were at parity until 1979: Nine Canadians per 1,000 married yearly, against ten Americans per 1,000. Today, however, Canada's marriage rate is fully 40% lower than America's. Why? It appears that extra-marital cohabitation is much more frequent in Canada, where tax and pension laws are more "friendly" to cohabitating couples.

» Common-Law Rate Differences. Yet another part of the disparity can be explained by Canada's higher rate of common-law relationships. In 1981, 6% of Canadian couples were common-law, a number that grew to 14% by 2001. During those same twenty years, the American cohabitation rate also registered an increase, from 3 to 6%. While not praiseworthy, America's rate is less than half that of Canada's. Obviously, such casual relationships are less apt to produce children than wedded relationships.

» Abortion Rate Differences. However, the abortion rate differential explains the lion's share of the disparity in TFR—no less than 35% of the Canadian-American fertility gap. Since 1975, abortions per 1,000 Canadian women have increased 66.7%, from 0.3 to 0.5, while abortions per 1,000 American women have decreased about 12%, from 0.8 to 0.7.

The 1980s tell the story. In 1980, 42% of Americans deemed that abortion "can never be justified." Just ten years later, only 33% took that view. Shamefully, the percentage of Americans willing to murder their children increased by 20% during the 1980s. Sadly, the Canadian figures are even more shocking. In 1980, 38% of Canadians saw no justification for abortion under any circumstances, yet by 1990, only 21% felt that way. The number of Canadians who had adopted more liberal views on abortion grew by 46%—almost half! These views translate into actions—into abortions, which lower the number of births a woman has in her lifetime. No wonder the Canadian total fertility rate is 25% lower than America's!

Statistics may seem cold, boring, and impersonal, but they really are not. Albeit sometimes imperfectly, they reflect peoples' actions, which in turn derive from their values, their belief systems. Behind every cold stat lies a value, a belief. Statistics are driven by a people's values. Values regarding the importance of marriage and the horror of abortion explain at least a part of the 51-point disparity in fertility between these two North American nations, so alike in many ways, but so different in others.

Actions count. Low fertility rates translate over time into an increase in a nation's average age because not enough children are being born to offset the ever-aging adults. In 2000, Canada's median age was 36.9, against America's 35.2. At current replacement rates, by 2025 Canada's median age will be 43.5, against America's 39.0. By then a full 22.9% of Canadian citizens will be over 65, against 12.7% over that age today. This increased number of seniors will put pressure on Canada's healthcare systems. Taxes will be raised, weakening the economy, lowering the standard of living overall, and ironically, discouraging young people from having children. So, over time, the fertility problem will just get worse.

Let no one ever tell you that morals are relative and neutral. Wrong beliefs produce bad results, and bad results hurt everyone.