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Many Canadians in their 20s and 30s are delaying having kids — and some say high rent is a factor

Anna Smith would like to start a family.

But she would also like more space for a baby, as the 27-year-old and her partner currently live in a 500-square-foot apartment in Toronto’s east end for $1,550 per month. Like many Canadians in their 20s and 30s, she says she’s realizing she can’t have both. 

So Smith, a University of Toronto graduate student, has been delaying having children for two years now, a decision she calls “just heartbreaking.” 

“I’ve always hoped I could be a young parent because my folks had me in their mid-40s, and while they were excellent parents, they couldn’t keep up with me, and I wanted to give my kids a different kind of childhood,” Smith said.

“We feel so stuck, and it’s disheartening to be struggling to achieve these life goalposts.”

WATCH | Canada’s rental crisis by the numbers: 

Crunching the numbers on Canada’s rental crisis

According to a CBC News analysis of over 1,000 neighbourhoods across Canada’s largest cities, fewer than one per cent of rentals are both vacant and affordable for the majority of renters. CBC’s Nael Shiab shows a new online tool that reveals where you can afford to rent.

Families in smaller apartments

With surging prices and decreased availability, finding housing at all has become daunting. Demand is outpacing supply in a rental housing crisis gripping the country. And vacancy rates have reached a new low, while average rent increases hit a new high, notes a January rental market report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Less than one per cent of rentals are both vacant and affordable for the majority of the country’s renters, a recent CBC News analysis of more than 1,000 neighbourhoods across Canada’s largest cities found.

Are you:

  • An international student who is concerned about housing?
  • A senior looking to get back into the rental market?
  • Someone who locked in to a great deal on rent years ago, and is now reluctant to move?
  • Living with a roommate much older or younger than you?
  • Living with an ex or staying in a relationship because of the rental market?

If this is you, or you are in a different unique living situation because of the rental crisis, we want to hear from you. Send an email to [email protected].

And it gets worse if you’re looking for rentals with multiple bedrooms, which are as scarce as they are costly. Only 14,000 units with two bedrooms or more were potentially vacant and affordable for the median income of families living in a rented place — just 0.5 per cent of all such rentals on the market.

Because of this and other factors, some families are crammed into smaller apartments, with parents sleeping on couches so kids can have bedrooms. Others, like Smith, have delayed starting families at all.

Some, like Zach Robichaud, 37, say they’ve had to reshape their dreams of having a big family.

Robichaud, who lives in Kitchener, Ont., grew up the youngest of six kids. He says he and his wife wanted three children, but stopped after having Avery, who is now four. Even though they both have full-time jobs, he said, most of their income goes to their $2,000-a-month rent.

Between that and other necessities, he says they just can’t afford another baby.

“She’ll essentially be on her own,” Robichaud said of his daughter. “It’s really kind of sad that she won’t have that same sort of support system.”

A man holds a young girl
Zach Robichaud, right, of Kitchener, Ont., poses with his daughter, Avery. Robichaud would have liked to have a big family, but says he can’t afford more than one child when most of his income goes to rent. (Zach Robichaud)

Affordability influencing family choices

Canada’s total fertility rate dropped in 2022 to its lowest point in more than a century, at 1.33 children per woman, Statistics Canada reported in January. The agency also previously reported that affordability concerns were a major factor in younger Canadians not having children.

In 2022, 38 per cent of young adults (aged 20 to 29) did not believe they could afford to have a child in the next three years, according to Statistics Canada

  • This Sunday, Cross Country Checkup is asking: Why are more people single? Are you more, or less happy on your own? Fill out this form and you could appear on the show or have your comment read on air.

In addition to the inadequate supply of affordable housing, people are also being squeezed by less housing stock coming back on the market as older Canadians stay in their homes longer, Randall Bartlett, senior director of Canadian economics with Desjardins, told CBC News.

“The only way to really contend with this is to bring more supply on the market to help ultimately bring down the price of housing and rents and make it more accessible for a broader group of Canadians,” Bartlett said.

LISTEN | Cost of living and putting off kids: 

The Current18:28Why more Canadians are deciding not to have children

A growing number of Canadians are delaying parenthood or choosing not to have children at a time when Canada’s fertility rate is at an all-time low. The Current’s producer Kate Cornick looked into these decisions and the long-term implications.

Meanwhile, just over half (55 per cent) of Canadians age 18 to 34 surveyed last year for a study by Abacus Data and the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) said the housing crisis had affected their decision and timing to start a family. The study polled 3,500 Canadian adults at the end of September 2023.

The survey also found that 28 per cent of those in that age range who wanted children were temporarily postponing doing so because of housing affordability. And 27 per cent were choosing to have no or fewer children for the same reason.

(The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of those aged 18 to 34 is +/- 3.34 per cent, 19 times out of 20.)

White crib with a old teddy bear.
A file photo of a crib. Just over half of the young Canadians surveyed last year for a study by Abacus Data and the Canadian Real Estate Association said the housing crisis had affected their decision and timing to start a family. (Cort Sloan/CBC)

More complicated decision

All this can have repercussions, as people delay having children outside of their prime reproductive years, said Karen Lawson, a professor and department head of psychology and health studies at the University of Saskatchewan. Lawson also studies why people choose not to have children or delay the decision.

“They may have fewer children than they wanted because of their shortened reproductive window, or they may face fertility problems that result in involuntary childlessness,” Lawson told CBC News in an email interview.

The decision to have children is more complicated than it was in the past, Lawson said. While financial and housing costs are a factor for some, she said, for others it seems to be driven more by the personal costs in child-rearing.

“Financial costs are higher, social supports are lower, perceived rewards may be fewer — parenting itself has changed to become much more intensive and consuming,” Lawson said.

“The alternative options for fulfilment have never been greater or more accessible.”

In her own research, Lawson says she sees young Canadians following a more “sequential” life path model, where they only have children after finishing their education, establishing their career and achieving financial and housing security.

“As a society, we may need to … support a more ‘parallel’ life path model, so that young people can achieve these important life goals and begin their families simultaneously.”

WATCH | The elusive 3-bedroom rental: 

Why is it so hard to find a 3-bedroom rental these days?

As rent soars to record heights, Canadians are struggling to find affordable family-size units. CBC’s Yvette Brend shares the Ward family’s tragic story – and their search for a solution.

‘Further out of our grasp’

Smith, the U of T graduate student, is finishing up her PhD in medicine. She says she and her partner secured their more affordable, but small, $1,550 apartment during a dip in prices during COVID-19. Now, they’re looking at paying more than twice that for a place with two or more bedrooms. 

“We were ready to have kids two years ago, but decided to wait until we’d saved up and and were a bit more stable. Now rents are so high that if we moved, we’d be even worse off overall,” she said.

And because she and her partner are both scientists, she says that realistically they’ll only be able to find work in major cities, meaning higher prices.

two people walk in front of an apartment building
People walk past rental units in Toronto in January 2024. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“We’ve lowered our expectations for what our life would look like at age 30 many times over the years. We used to dream of owning our own home in the city, having two kids and a pet,” Smith said.

“Everything we hoped for just keeps moving further and further out of our grasp.”

And for Robichaud, he says it’s disappointing that he and his wife both make decent money, but still feel they can’t afford another child. He’s a reporting analyst for a gaming startup. She works for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

“In any other economy, I would consider us to be middle class, but we struggle,” Robichaud said.

“I have never made more money in my life and I’ve never been poorer.”


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