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The Globe and Mail

Number of young children soars as echo effect hits Western Canada

4-year-old Max Weckel lives in Calgary, Alberta and makes up part of the recent 2011 Canadian census.

chris bolin The Globe and Mail

The number of young children in Canada is growing faster than at any time since the end of the baby boom more than 50 years ago, driven particularly by higher birth rates in Western Canada.

But the jump in the number of toddlers is too small to be designated a baby boom. It's more accurate to think of it as an echo effect, since this likely reflects the first wave of children born to the children of the baby boom.

The number of kids aged four and under grew by 11 per cent since 2006. Alberta led the way, with 21-per-cent growth in the number of young children, followed by Saskatchewan and Quebec. The lowest growth rates were in Ontario and Atlantic Canada.

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"What's happening is that fertility rates have gone up slightly across the decade," said Doug Norris, vice-president at Environics Analytics and a former director general of social and demographic statistics at StatsCan. "It's all a result of the echo effect."

Canada's fertility rates were around 1.5 children per woman at the start of the decade and rose to about 1.7 children per woman before the latest census. Part of the explanation is that there are now more women in the 25 to 35 cohort. It may also be that there has been a rise in the number of births to women who delayed child bearing to their late 30s or early 40s, so births that might have been expected 10 years ago are showing up now.

"I don't read into it any implication that fertility rates are heading way up again," Mr. Norris said.

Eileen Weckel lives in Calgary in a neighbourhood crowded with young children. Like so many new Albertans, she and her husband were drawn to Alberta by a job offer. They have a son, Max, who is four years old, and her husband has an older son from a previous marriage.

"I didn't get married until I was 35 and we knew we had to act quickly. We actually got pregnant on our honeymoon," said Ms. Weckel, now 40.

They don't plan to have more children, but their social circle in Calgary is full of other families with two and even three kids under four. It's no surprise, since babies tend to be born in places where jobs are plentiful. It also creates a kind of rolling demographic effect in Alberta, as its population gets younger not only by attracting people in their 20s and 30s but also through their children.

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