Baby boom?

N.L. birth rate on the rise

Deana Stokes Sullivan
Published on October 6, 2010
Baby Boom
Photo illustration by Robert Simon/The Telegram

After years in decline, Newfoundland and Labrador’s birth rate has been steadily increasing in recent years — and the trend is expected to continue this year.

It’s not known what’s causing what some are calling a mini baby boom, or whether it’s just a coincidence more babies have been born since the province announced increased child and family benefits two years ago.

According to statistics from the Department of Government Services, this year more than 3,300 babies were born in the province as of mid-September, with more than 1,700 of them delivered in St. John’s.

Last year, there were 4,935 births, with 2,629 of them born in St. John’s. That’s up from 4,905 births in 2008, which was up by more than 300 births over 2007.

Those figures are up by 400 to 500 annually above the number of births recorded in the province five years ago.

In 2004, Statistics Canada reported there were 4,488 births in the province, down from 8,929 in 1983. The decline was attributed to young men and women moving out of the province.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Health Information reported last year the province’s birth rate had reached the highest it had been in more than 10 years, which it termed a positive step for population growth.

The centre said between 1999 and 2007, there was a 10 per cent decrease in the number of live births, accompanied by a gradual increase in the number of deaths. But the birth rate rose from nine births per 1,000 population in 2007 to 9.7 per 1,000 population in 2008.

In 2008, the provincial government introduced a “progressive family growth benefit,” providing  $1,000 for every child born or adopted, plus a parental support benefit of $100 a month to parents for the first 12 months for each child born or adopted.

At the time, the government estimated there were 4,500 births and adoptions annually. Since then, the number of births alone has surpassed that figure by more than 400.

The new benefits are not taxable and are paid to families, regardless of their financial situation or employment status. The province estimated the cost of the program would be $12.4 million in 2008 and about $9.9 million annually thereafter.

Eastern Health, the health authority that delivers most of the babies in this province, has confirmed there’s been an increased demand in this area of health care.

Eastern Health spokeswoman Laura Woodford said there’s been about a 10 per cent increase in births in its jurisdiction over the past couple of years.

“We have responded and are addressing the issue,” Woodford said. “For example, we created four new permanent positions in the case room last year, and we also recently hired four new (neonatal intensive care unit) nurses with funding received in Budget 2010.

“We regularly monitor the situation and assess whether other areas of the system are impacted and address it accordingly,” she added.

Eastern Health has also been dealing with more high risk pregnancies recently, which prompted the authority to send some pregnant women outside the province for medical care.

Kevin Milligan, an associate professor of economics at the University of British Columbia, wrote a research article for the C.D. Howe Institute in 2002 on baby bonus initiatives in Quebec, similar to the Newfoundland government’s initiative announced in 2008.

Milligan concluded that while the goal of increasing family size was achieved in that province, with a 14.5 per cent increase in births from 1989 to 1996, the incentive cost the public purse more than $15,000 per additional birth.

Payments under the allowance for newborn children, announced in Quebec in 1988, initially included $500 upon the birth of a first child, $500 for a second child and the first of eight quarterly payments of $375 (totalling $3,000) when a third or subsequent child joined the household. By 1992, the benefits grew, with $500 still being paid for a first child, but $1,000 for a second and 20 quarterly payments of $400 (totalling $8,000) for a third or subsequent child.

Milligan said the Quebec government cancelled the program in 1997, with Families and Children Minister Nicole Leger calling it a “lamentable failure.”

He said his calculations suggested that 93,000 births between 1989 and 1996 could be attributed to the program, but while the pro-nationalist child benefit paid up to $8,000 to a family, the cost per additional birth was about $15,113.