Immigrant Mothers: More Educated & More Likely to Delay Parenthood

Posted by Zehra Naqvi & filed under Parenting.

Photo by khunaspix. Source:
Photo by khunaspix. Source:

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It’s no surprise that Canadian women have been waiting until later in life to have children, as the average age of first-time mothers has steadily increased over the last few decades. In 2010, 28.1 years was the average age of first time mothers, a sharp increase from the mid 1960s when the average age at first birth was 23.5 years. In 2006, 11% of all first births in Canada were to women aged 35 and over, which is almost triple the percentage observed in 1987. According to Statistics Canada, immigrant women are at the forefront on this trend. They are twice as likely to be in the category of mothers aged 40-44 with children of preschool age. In other words, immigrant women are far more likely than other Canadian women to wait until the age of 35 or later to have their first child.

So why are immigrant women choosing to wait longer to have children? Well, there are a variety of factors. I went deep into Statistics Canada’s archive of facts and figures and discovered some possible explanations. Let’s break them down.

1. Education

There’s plenty of data linking the inverse relationship between female education with birth rates, and the data shows that women’s education levels have steadily increased over the past few decades. And who’s the most educated of them them all? Well, according to the following Statistic Canada chart, immigrant women tend lead this factor – they are more likely to have a university degree than Canadian-born women.  This can explain why they are also more likely to wait longer to have their first child. Here’s a convenient chart to see the numbers for yourself:

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Statistics Canada: Level of Education from age 25 to 54, by immigration status

Here’s another graph noting how education level, place of birth and likelihood of being an older mother (aged 40-44) are related:

Source: Statistics Canada

Interestingly, while East-Asian born women are more likely to have a university degree than other groups, that does not always mean they tend to be older mothers when compared to other Canadian immigrant groups.  In the US, however, Asian or Pacific Islander women had the oldest average at first birth (28.5 years) in 2006 (NCHS).


2. Location, location, location


What’s another factor that effects a mother’s likelihood of delaying parenthood? Location! According to Statistic Canada (and this informative graph) mothers aged 40-44 whose eldest child is under 5 are more likely to live in urban zones. And where are immigrant women most likely to reside? You guessed it: urban areas. Upon arriving to Canada, many immigrants decide to settle in more densely populated cities. For example in Vancouver and Toronto  there are likely to be more job opportunities and larger immigrant and ethnic communities (Vancouver being the most ‘Asian’ city outside Asia). Living in these metropolitan areas may also contribute to why they decide to delay having children.


3. Delayed Adulthood 

It isn’t exactly easy nowadays to move out at 18, finish your education debt-free, and buy a house before you hit 30.  It’s taking longer for young adults to independently support themselves let alone a family. Because of economic and labour market factors, youth are transitioning into adulthood at more advanced ages. They tend to live with their parents for longer, study for longer, take longer in landing a full-time profession and buying a home. Delayed adulthood is a contributing factor to why folks on average are waiting longer to have their first child, and immigrant families aren’t an exception to this reality.

4. Change in Values


Times are changing. Giving birth and child rearing is no longer a primary goal for many women. More and more women have entered professional fields, study for longer, and have full-time careers. Working women are less likely to have the time and income to start a family early on in life. In 2006 immigrant women accounted for 21% of the labour force–a 16.8% increase from 2001. The rate of increase is double that of Canadian-born women, which was 7.4% between 2001 and 2006.  This sharp rise in immigrant women joining the labour force helps to explain why they are also increasingly more likely to delay parenthood.


Average age at first birth also differs depending on ethnicity and culture. Immigrant women’s backgrounds place differing values on factors that contribute to delay in childbirth, including their religious background, cultural norms, financial security, age or physical health, whether it will effect their career goals, and emotional preparedness for motherhood.


So there have you have it: four possible reasons why immigrant women may be waiting longer to have children.  While many women in general are delaying parenthood, higher levels of education, living location, and increasing rate of participation in the labour force may be what’s pushed immigrant mothers to the forefront of this trend. There are also increasingly more women that are deciding not to have children at all and this article just looks at those women who do end up giving birth. I’m sure there are more intersectional factors involved as well, including income, culture, limitations and challenges faced by new immigrants, and employment opportunities that deserve to be further researched and investigated.

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