Saturday, July 26, 2008

Demography and culture: French Canada's fall and Québec's isolation

Over the past few months, Statistics Canada has been releasing data sets and analysis from the 2006 Census. Statistics Canada released information on language use, immigration and citizenship, and inter-provincial migration. The textual analyses at Statistics Canada's website are good, but the interactive map created by the Canadian Press and hosted at is wonderful. Of note is the continuing fall in Francophone numbers and proportions outside of Québec and New Brunswick.

What happened? It's important to note that the belief in a French Canadian revanche des berceaux, of a nationalism-driven birth rate under British occupation that saw every family produce large numbers of children, is a legend. The disparity between Ontarian and Québec (and fertility fertility rates emerged after 1870, when Ontario moved in the direction of a demographic regime characterized by sharply falling death and infant mortality rates in tandem with falling birth rates, while Québec--more conservative, more rural--lagged behind. For a long while, this was enough to keep the Francophone proportion of Canada's population stable at roughly 30%. But then the 1960s hit.

Between 1850 and 1950, owing to a high fertility rate among French Canadian women, the proportion of Francophones in the Canadian population held at 30%. The fertility of the Francophones then dropped below the Canadian average toward the mid-1960s, contributing to a decrease in the proportion of the total Canadian population speaking French as a mother tongue -- from 29% in 1951 to 25% in 1986. Between 1926 and 1960, the fertility rate of women in Quebec moved closer to that of other Canadian women. In effect, the ratio of the fertility rate of Quebec women to other Canadian women dropped from 1.45 in 1926 to 1.30 around 1940 and 1.15 around 1950. Between 1960 and 1970, fertility declined very rapidly. The total fertility rate of women in Quebec dropped from 3.9 to 2.1; the fertility of other Canadian women declined but not so markedly, from 4.0 to 2.5. By 1974, fertility in Quebec had declined to 1.8 children/woman, and by 1986 the fertility rate had fallen still further to 1.4, while that of other Canadian women held at between 1.7 and 1.8. The fertility rate was 20% lower in Quebec in 1986 than in the other provinces. These differences in fertility between Québec and the rest of Canada have significantly affected the demographic situation. Census data have shown that the completed fertility of Francophones was 80% higher than that of Anglophones for women born at the turn of the century, but this gap narrowed rapidly over the years and disappeared for women born between 1931-36.

These differences also affected Francophone populations outside of Québec, as the same source notes, with Francophone TFRs outside of Québec falling not only below the levels of non-Francophone TFRs ("[i]n Ontario [in 1986], the total fertility rate for Francophones was 1.54, compared to 1.61 for Anglophones and 1.75 for the other groups"). The fertility of Québec--perhaps a reasonably good proxy for Francophone Canada as a whole--is not the lowest-low fertility of Italy, and it might well have only anticipated trends in English Canada. Even so, the province of Québec is going to have to deal with relatively low if not negative population growth and relatively rapid aging, further complicated by issues with immigration, as evidenced by the loud debate on the topic of how best to integrate immigrants. (The old endogamy of the pre-1960s period is most certainly gone, even if the problem of dealing with Others remains, as with other peoples and cultures.)

Survival will be an unsurmountable challenge for most Francophone minorities outside of Québec. In most of the rest of Canada, Francophones form significant minorities (and, occasionally, majorities) only in the "bilingual belt" stretching more-or-less along the Québec border. Can this be changed? It's questionable. Francophones outside of Québec once exhibited higher TFRs than Francophones inside Québec, but this situation has reversed itself. In the 1996-2001 period, there was a significant amount of Francophone out-migration to Ontario, New Brunswick, and Alberta, suggesting a certain potential for the revitalization of those communities, but again Francophones in Ontario and Alberta form only a small portion of the population, while the stable Francophone community of New Brunswick has often been a net exporter of population to Québec. Without any remarkable demographic event--a Francophone baby boom,. mass immigrations from Francophone Europe and Africa, et cetera--non-Francophones won't have any particular reason to view French as particularly relevant to their lives. Journalist Chantal Hébert was right to point out in a December 2007 article for The Toronto Star that "French still an abstraction in much of Canada": "[O]utside Quebec, Francophones make up only 4 per cent of the population. With French an abstraction in so many parts of Canada, the motivation to learn it as a second language is decreasing. Because most Anglophones learn French at school, the peak bilingualism rate for Anglophones outside Quebec occurs in the 15 to 19 age range. Over the past decade, it has slipped from 16.3 per cent to 13 per cent. The census also shows the retention rate of Anglophones who have learned the language is slipping." Even in 2001, Statistics Canada discovered that overall, "43.4% of Francophones reported that they were bilingual, compared with 9.0% of Anglophones." For those Francophones living outside of Québec, living in an overwhelmingly non-Francophone society with few if any barriers to intermarriage, these pressures create a perfect environment for language shift. It's not surprising that there was an overall decline in the numbers of Francophones outside of Québec. As Gilles Grenier put it in his paper "Linguistic and Economic Characteristics of Francophone Minorities in Canada: A Comparison of Ontario and New Brunswick" (Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development (18.8): 1997), in mixed environments

A lot still needs to be learned about what exactly determines assimilation, but it is clear that the fact that Anglophones and Francophones are more mixed together than they used to, mainly because the Canadian society has become more urbanised and communication systems more developed, leads to a more widespread use of the common majority language. If Francophones in Quebec and in New Brunswick have been able to maintain their language, it is because there is a geographical separation between them and the other communities. This does not mean that those Francophones do not use English for some of their economic activities, but at least French is still the dominant language in their own communities. One major reason of the assimilation in Ontario is that there are less and less towns and villages where the majority of the population is French.(299).

This last sentence is critical, since mass language shift from French to English is not unique in the history of North American Francophones. Starting in the late 19th century, relative economic underdevelopment propelled a tremendous migration of Francophones out from their traditional settlement areas along the St. Lawrence River and the Gulf of St. Lawrence to adjacent parts of the continent. Large and thriving communities of Franco-Americans (concentrated in New England, particularly in that region's industrial cities) and Franco-Ontarians (concentrated in northern and eastern areas adjacent to Québec) formed at this time, encouraging some to believe in the idea of a greater Québec encompassing those communities. That vision failed, as the Franco-American community was whittled away through immigration restrictions and acculturation to the Anglophone culture surrounding them. Franco-Ontarians, who with few exceptions like in Anglophone-majority communities relatively isolated from Québec, may be about to follow. And no, the Francophones who are tourists in Maine or long-term residents in Florida don't make up the same sorts of communities. What the long-term effects of a Québec isolated in its language from most of the rest of Canada and attached to a wider Francophone world and (through a traditional Ameriphilia) to the United States will be on a Canada faced with its own regional challenges, I leave to my readers to speculate.

Why is all this particularly relevant to readers of Demography Matters? Shifting population balances are central to our work here. The shrinkage of working-age populations as aging proceeds is something that we've looked at, just as we have taken a look at the effects of emigration on the long-term futures of different countries, just as we have taken a look at unbalanced sex ratios. The transformation of populations via cultural or linguistic shifts is just as surely an issue of note. How's Catalan faring in the Generalitat and the Balearics and Valencia, in the context of Spain's recent immigration boom, and if badly, could this lead to anti-immigration sentiment or legislation? Is the proportion of first-language Russophones in Latvia shrinking significantly, and if so could this lead to a cautious liberalization of immigration legislation? Will Russia try to make good on its promises to the Russophones of the former Soviet Union? Just what is going on with Spanish in the United States and what does this suggest about Hispanics? Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Demography matters, and so do the underlying cultural issues that not only help define demographics but influence the ways in which we think of those shifts. In Canada, English Canadians and French Canadians have dealt with each other substantially in relation to their demographics ("Are the French having too many children?" "Are the English trying to overwhelm us with immigrants?"), managing to stifle until relatively recently serious discussion about what's actually going on. If you think that this was about Eurabia, well, yes, it is in part about that, but it is more importantly about the need to come up with examples from the past and the present of underdiscussed and often misdiscussed issues sine, after all, Demography Matters.

What happened to Flemish France, what's going on with the Tibetans, and what's happening to the ethnic Poles in the former Soviet Union? Come back here to find out.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update on Quebec.

One of things that bothers me about most "acceptable" demographic musings is that they tend to assume that everything will stay the same even as numbers change. The disappearance of the francophone population in Quebec demonstrates in a non threating way what change in demographics can mean for culture change. As you observe, it is critical to focus on such issues.

An example of not focusing on such issues can be found in the UN Report entitled "Demographic Policy in Russia: From Reflection to Action". This report has a lot of excellent data in it, but the reports prescriptions are unrealistic.

The report recognizes the fact that sharp change in the numbers and ethnic makeup of Russia's is unavoidable in the near term. The report also recognizes that a continuation of such trends would spell the end of Russia in the long term. But the reports policy recommendations assume that Russia's economic resources will not change much over the near term. In short, the report calls for Russia to throw money at the problem until it is solved.

This leads the report in the paradoxical situation of proclaiming that the situation is dire while assuming that nothing bad will happen at the same time that will prevent Russia from having lots of money to throw at the problem. If demographical changes have no economic impact why worry about them? And if they do, should we really plan for the future as if the economic situation will be stable?

Russia is going to have a tough time paying woman to breed (as the report basically calls for Russia to do)if it is facing increasing pension payments, labor shortages, and security cost relating to keeping ethnic minorities from breaking away from the Russian state.

Of course, even people from "unacceptable" schools of thought make similar mistakes. For example, many people who worry about Eurabia fail to pay attention to demographic patterns in North Africa. The same goes for those conservatives who worry that America will be taken over by Mexicans. A look at Mexico's demographics would show that the rate of immigration has to drop off soon.

I feel that these two errors are leading people astray similar way. They are leading people to believe that the problems presented by demographics have easy fixes. The "unacceptable" people who worry about Eurabia lead people to believe that the problem can be solved by strictly controlling immigration. The "acceptable" people who worry about the economic effects of demographics pretend that the right economic policy could solve the problem.

In truth, both groups are wrong. Europe is in no position to be choosy about it immigrants no matter what the right wing might want. There just are not enough highly educated people with liberal world views to go around. Even America is going to need a number of immigrants if it is going to continue on in the style to which it has become a costumed.

But by the same token, there is going to be some serious economic pain that accompanies the coming demographic transition. Over coming that pain in a profitable way is going to require a unity born of a shared set of ideals and a willingness to sacrifices. You can't buy a solution to social upheaval.

Anonymous said...

Russia is going to have a tough time paying woman to breed (as the report basically calls for Russia to do)if it is facing increasing pension payments, labor shortages, and security cost relating to keeping ethnic minorities from breaking away from the Russian state.

Might it not be better in the long run to let the ethnic minorities break away?

Anonymous said...

Might it not be better in the long run to let the ethnic minorities break away?

Of course. In the long run I think that is what is going to happen no matter what. But do you really think the Russians will take such a reasonable attitude towards the process?

From everything I have read, the majority of Russians fell that allowing the soviet empire to break up was a big mistake. They don't seem inclined to repeat it.

I think they learned the wrong lessons from history, but what do I know?

Anonymous said...

Yo, Randy,

Interesting stuff. Can you pull out the completed fertility rates by age cohort through, say, the class of 1970? That's the relevant figure, considering the very very large problems with interpreting small differences with TFRs.

I ask you to do the work sos we's don't have to ...

david h jones said...

Thanks for this posting. Demographics is the dynamo which will drive world politics for the forseeable future.

The low birth-rate is having a massive affect on 'minority' languages like Welsh, Catalan, Basque - although is seems the intelligencia of those communities won't start to discuss its implications in any detail for fear of being labelled 'extreme' or worse. There is a belief in these communities that if they sort out the education system and ahve bilignual signs the language will be OK.

The lack of intelligent and honest discussion on demographics has created a 'head in the sand' syndrome in many European minority language communities.

Anonymous said...

I visited Montreal not long ago. There are lots of Francophone immigrants, especially from Haiti but also from Francophone Africa and elsewhere. It's very difficult to function without French in Quebec (fortunately, I speak French, although the Canadian dialect is so different from the mother tongue that it's difficult to understand).

Safe to say use of French will go on for some time in Quebec.

Anonymous said...

The significant increase in the number of Welsh and Catalan speakers in the last decades isn't due to birth but because non native speakers and their kids learning the language. Catalan is in fact under less preasure than it was under Franco and the large immigration of Castillian speakers at the time

Anonymous said...


That's true to some extent. I can't speak for Catalan but there are two points in relation to Welsh.

The slight increase in number of speakers of Welsh in 2001 census was due to increase in Welsh-medium education, so, you're right. However:

1. These numbers don't give a true picture which is of patchy fluency in Welsh and a passive (if not at time non) use of Welsh by many Welsh-speakers who've been through Welsh-medium education. The rise is to welcomed warmly and is a firm platform, but as one demographer in Wales said, it's like stawberry plants - beautiful and spread out but with out deep roots.

2. The number of children from Welsh-speaking backgrounds in decreasing. Two factors: lack of transfere of language especially in linguisitcally mixed backgrounds (especially if mother doesn't speak Welsh) and of course the low birth rate. Demographers need to factor into the real physical Welsh birth rate (about 1.7, but 1.6 in rural - and mroe Welsh-speaking Wales) with the actual birth-rate of the Welsh language which loses some one third of 'natural mother tongue' speakers. The Welsh language was not being tranfered from generation to generation when we had an above replacement birth rate, the problem then when we have a below replacement birth rate is a real one.

2. The strategy of growing the Welsh language through education is a good one and is creating a multi-ethnic Welsh speaking community. Trouble is, if there are less children being born and so entering the Welsh education system (of what ever background) then that strategy has a big hole in it. The Welsh labour force has to be filled and will be filled by non Welsh residents who by definition speak English as a first or second language and are unlikely (unlike in Quebec) to learn Welsh. By doing so, it hinders the normalisation of the Welsh language. A sustained low birth rate will mean 30 / 40 years (who knows) when it will be very difficult to create genuine normal use of Welsh or sustain Welsh-speaking domains which can intergrate adult non-Welsh speakers.

I enlcose a link to a related artile written in 2006.


Anonymous said...

the full URL is:


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

I have a feeling that in discussing the demographic of linguistic minorities (Québécois, Catalans, Tibetans etc.), participants to this conversation tend to confuse very different processes such as:
-lower demographic growth due most notably to lower fertility (Québécois, Russians in former Soviet Republics )
-language "migration" when people adopt the "majority language" (Welsh, Bretons etc.)
-demographic invasion by allophones (Tibet, California, etc.)
Each of these distinct configurations follow different trajectories (and may call for different responses)

Anonymous said...

Annon 8:56 PM

You're right about the need for different approaches. but what that doesn't negate the need to recognise fertility as a key component in the socio-linguistic mix. The point is, in the discourse of many of these communities, or Welsh in any case, this component is consistently and deliberately ignored.

Many of these communities had difficulty retaining language transfere between generations when the fertility rate was above replacement. Is the rate is below replacement than all the factors you've mentioned is magnified.


Randy McDonald said...

ape man:

The same goes for those conservatives who worry that America will be taken over by Mexicans. A look at Mexico's demographics would show that the rate of immigration has to drop off soon.

I disagree. Newfoundland has very, very low TFRs and likely a low cohort fertility, but despite all that and a booming economy Newfoundland is still emptying out.

Peter, Ape Man:

I doubt that they'd successfull break away, if only because the only ethnic minorities that aren't surrounding by Russian-populated areas are in the North caucasus. Elsewhere, with the apparent exception of Tatarstan, ethnic minorities are in a more-or-less advanced state of assimilation.


It's right here.

Cohort fertility seems to be relatively stable at 1.6.

I'll include them in my next post, tomorrow, on the subject.


California? Um, no. When the immigrants coming to an area come from a wide variety of states and cultures, the majority language will win out as the lingua franca.

The same holds true for Catalan in Catalonia, actually. Unlike Welsh or Breton or Basque, Catalan hass traditionally been the prestigious language in the area of the Generalitat, with even Hispanophone migrants needing to learn the language. With immigrants from a broad variety of language groups coming in, well.

demographic factors do enter into the future of language minorities. In the case of Canadian Francophonmes, low TFRs combine with high rates of language shift to produce Francophone poplation increasingly concentrated in Québec (and adjoining New Brunswick, home to a large Francophone population concentrated in territories which mostly adjoin Québec).

Anonymous said...

Ape Man said...

. . .

Russia is going to have a tough time paying woman to breed (as the report basically calls for Russia to do)if it is facing increasing pension payments, labor shortages, and security cost relating to keeping ethnic minorities from breaking away from the Russian state.

Of course, even people from "unacceptable" schools of thought make similar mistakes. For example, many people who worry about Eurabia fail to pay attention to demographic patterns in North Africa. The same goes for those conservatives who worry that America will be taken over by Mexicans. A look at Mexico's demographics would show that the rate of immigration has to drop off soon.

I think that many people who worry about Russia also fail to pay attention to demographic patterns in Russia... :-)

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