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Religious Canadians are less anxious about having children and they’re having more of them, study finds

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Religious women in Canada are having more children than non-religious women and report less anxiety about childbearing and parenthood, according to a new study by the faith-based think tank Cardus.

In particular, non-religious women have serious concerns about the financial impact of having children and are far more skeptical that their partner will help with childcare than religious women the study finds.

“Even when religious and non-religious women have identical financial circumstances, they report dramatically different degrees of financial worries, suggesting that religious women possess additional non-financial resources, such as community support or psychological strategies, for managing their situation,” the report reads.

Even when controlling for other factors, like differences in income, the study finds that non-religious women under 30 report more than twice the amount of concern about financial obstacles to childbearing compared to women who regularly attend religious services.

“Being part of a community of shared values and mutual support that provides you with meaningful and powerful ways of thinking about and addressing the challenges in life has real benefit. That helps you achieve your goals in life,” Lyman Stone, a senior fellow at Cardus and the author of the study.

“But that’s not a silver bullet, right? We can’t just positive-think our way out of significant structural barriers to family life,” said Stone, who said he also supports government policies that help lighten the load, such as child benefit payments.

Stone said that it’s possible that religious women in Canada are simply getting more non-financial support from their community, such as child-minding, moral support, and items like hand-me-down clothing.

That could only be a partial explanation, because all women report similar levels of concern about these specific family-care duties, with the exception that non-religious women “are much more concerned that their partners will not share childcare responsibilities,” the study finds.

It could be that religion and the community that comes along with it, both do a good job of psychology preparing people for all of life’s hardships, said Stone.

The polling data finds that religion has three big effects on Canadians when it comes to family formation. Religious Canadians are more likely to desire larger families, to place a high social value on marriage and parenthood, and they also report benefiting from an extensive range of social support.

It’s not a silver bullet, though. Just like the rest of Canadian women, religious women are still having substantially fewer children than they would prefer.

A previous study by Cardus based on the same polling data found that Canadian women are having fewer children than they would prefer and, although religious women are having more children than non-religious women, they are still vastly under-shooting their preference.

Canadian women desire, on average 2.2 children, while Canada’s actual fertility rate sits at 1.4 children per woman. For comparison, the typical Protestant Canadian woman says she wants about three children. And although there are big differences among the various religious affiliations in Canada, they all desire more children than Canada’s current fertility rate of 1.4 children, even agnostics and atheists.

One thing that’s clear from the polling data is that the number of children a woman desires and intends to have rises in relation to the frequency she attends religious services.

Religious women are also more likely to be married and have more family-oriented dispositions, which also leads to larger family sizes. The study also points out that religious Canadians tend to marry earlier in life, meaning they simply have more time together during the years when conception is easiest.

It’s also the case that religion naturally creates a cultural incentive for families and children, which isn’t necessarily the case for the broader culture in Canada.

“Culture is a big part of it, norms, values, attitudes. So governments can think: are we feeding into public anxiety? Are we creating new sets of anxieties that wouldn’t have existed otherwise?” said Stone.

“There are a lot of other things that are adversely affected by a society where a growing share of people are just really anxious about a lot of things all the time. And so finding ways that our government or educational system can encourage stronger community support and greater mental and psycho-emotional resilience is a really important thing for all sorts of social outcomes, including fertility,” said Stone.

The report is based on a survey commissioned by Cardus with the Angus Reid Group in July 2022, which surveyed 2,700 women aged 18 to 44 about family and fertility.

Rate hikes see NDP and Liberals join attacks on Bank of Canada

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The Bank of Canada was subjected to a round of cross-party criticism last week after it raised the benchmark interest rate to five percent, the highest since 2001, in an attempt to combat inflation.

The Bank is used to taking flak lately, but perhaps not to the current bipartisan consensus.

Criticizing the Bank is nothing new for the Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, who has promised to fire Governor Tiff Macklem for failing to prevent inflation from rising beyond an annual rate of three percent, or even NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who has attacked past interest-rate hikes.

Last week, however, even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chimed in with pointed comments, if not outright criticism, regarding the rate hike.

“This is not the news that any Canadian wanted to receive,” said Trudeau last week at a NATO meeting in Lithuania, although he framed the situation in a global context. “I’ve had conversations with leaders here in Europe and around the world and the cost of living is a real challenge.” 

When addressing past interest-rate hikes, Trudeau has often pivoted to touting his government’s financial support for Canadians who are financially struggling, and Canada’s favourable federal debt-to-GDP ratio. 

Last week, B.C.’s NDP Premier David Eby went even further than Trudeau by criticizing the Bank’s rate hikes in very plain language. 

“We have not seen the full impact yet. People have not renewed their mortgages yet, and the businesses that are struggling under debt have not started going under yet, but they will,” said Eby. “Frankly, I don’t believe in solutions that come at the expense of the poorest people.” 

Karamveer Lalh, an Edmonton-based lawyer, wrote in defence of the Bank’s independence for The Hub last year and says his opinion remains unchanged. 

“Democratic socialists or social democrats, liberals, conservatives, they all have different ideas as to how to spend public money,” says Lalh. “But then the Bank is there to react to the fiscal changes that each of those governments make to make sure they don’t drive the economy into the ground, or make life completely unaffordable.”

Lalh says Trudeau’s comments were hypocritical after previously labelling Poilievre as irresponsible for his criticisms of the Bank last year. He says the comments and criticisms from Trudeau and Eby were more concerning than anything Poilievre said about the Bank. 

“Pierre Poilievre was talking about the Bank not doing its job properly, as per its rule defined by Parliament,” says Lalh, referencing the Bank’s mandate to keep inflation below 3 percent annually. “Trudeau and the NDP premiers, they’re talking about how they don’t think that the Bank of Canada should do its job.” 

In 2022, when both Singh and Poilievre were hammering the Bank, albeit for different reasons, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said that “institutional stability” was paramount while defending the Bank’s independence. Various commentators in many of Canada’s legacy media outlets attacked Poilievre for his criticisms of the Bank of Canada, labelling him as reckless and dangerous

Conservative strategist Fred DeLorey, and Erin O’Toole’s former campaign director, has criticized some aspects of Poilievre’s leadership but says Poilievre’s critiques of the Bank of Canada last year had merit. 

“(Poilievre) had the foresight to see that there were issues here,” says DeLorey.  “He was raising it and he took a lot of grief for it, which we’re now seeing was quite unfair.” 

In addition to economic damage due to inflation, hiked mortgage rates are beginning to hit Canadians in other ways. When interest rates were nearly non-existent during the pandemic, many Canadians purchased homes with variable, rather than fixed, mortgage rates, which have since risen to the point of being unaffordable for many new homeowners. 

Anthony Koch, who was Poilievre’s press secretary during his successful bid for party leadership, says partisans will only defend institutions when they aid their goals and that the Bank was above criticism for the Liberal government when interest rates aligned with the government’s heightened spending plans. 

“I’m not suggesting, in whole or in part, that they were operating in cahoots with one another,” says Koch. “What I’m saying though, is that when the policy pursued by the Bank of Canada was in line with the objectives and the policy objectives of the government of Justin Trudeau, it was all sweet and dandy.” 

DeLorey says criticisms of the Bank of Canada were a product of the current inflationary period, and will likely subside when rates return to pre-pandemic levels, but does not believe the Bank should be above criticism. 

“We live in a democracy where we should be allowed to criticize these things,” says DeLorey. “They’re not holy grails that we can’t touch, and if these guys are making incredibly important decisions that impact people’s lives, it is totally fair game to be able to criticize them.”