Where are Canada’s youngest mothers?

Canada’s new mothers have been getting older. The average age of Canadian women giving birth is almost 30 years old. In 1991, the earliest year I was able to find thorough data, that figure was roughly 28 years old.

There’s been a steady increase in the mean age of mothers in Canada. That makes sense. We’ve been hearing for years that young people are waiting longer to have children.

Below is a chart that shows the trend. The Canadian average is red. Individual provinces and territories are grey. There’s a spread of about 2-2.5 years among provinces, but the overall trend is pretty consistent.

mean age (canada minus nunavut)

The above chart isn’t complete, though. There’s one data series missing, and we get a different story when we add it in.

mean age (canada)

That’s a stark outlier. What is that?

mean age (nunavut)

It’s Nunavut (NU). If you’re wondering about that break in the data, it’s because Nunavut didn’t exist until 2000. Before that, present-day Nunavut was a part of the Northwest Territories (NWT).

So what’s going on in Nunavut? Why are its mothers so young compared to the rest of Canada? And, why isn’t it following the trend of every other province and territory, with a steadily increasing mean age of mothers?

The age when women have children is complex, and I won’t delve too deep into it, but one aspect of the data I was interested in investigating was the rate of teen pregnancies. Statistics Canada has data on that, though the dates don’t match up with the mean age of mother dataset. Here’s a graph showing the rate of teen pregnancies per 1,000 women for each province and territory.

teen pregnancies (canada)

Again, we see a stark outlier and, again, it’s Nunavut.

teen pregnancies (nunavut)

That’s interesting. Nunavut — and the Northwest Territories for that matter — have a high rate of teen pregnancy. Teen pregnancy rates, like the mean age of mothers,  are complex. When I consider what drives teen pregnancy, many things come to mind: income culture, and quality of sexual education being a few of them. One factor that comes to mind is the proportion of population that identifies as Aboriginal. Canada’s historical treatment of Aboriginal peoples is quite poor and Canada’s Aboriginals are a frequently marginalised community.

Let’s take a look at Aboriginal populations in each province and territory, according to the 2006 Census.

aboriginal population by province

Nunavut has far and away the highest proportion of Aboriginals at 85%. The Northwest Territories and the Yukon, Canada’ other northern territories, come in a distant second and third at 50% and 25%, respectively.

How do things look when we compare the proportion of Aboriginals to the teen pregnancy rate? The graph below compares the two, using 2006 figures for Aboriginal population and 2005 figures for teen pregnancy rates. Each circle represents a province or territory.

scatter aboriginal vs teen pregnancy

It looks like there’s a relationship between Aboriginal population and teen pregnancy, but the data is skewed to low-Aboriginal, low-teen pregnancy areas. Let’s do a log transform to see if that makes things clearer.

scatter aboriginal vs teen pregnancy (log)

Yep, we seem to have a correlation. This correlation probably isn’t surprising for most people, but it’s interesting to see what the data tells us.

I’d like to do more digging on this topic, but there are a lot of directions I can follow. If you have any suggestions, let me know if the comments below.


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