Babytown: The Fraser Valley is a magnet for infants

No single age group has contributed more new in-province migrants than kids under one. Part 4 of The Changing Valley Series.

By Tyler Olsen | March 15, 2022 |5:00 am

This is the third story in The Changing Valley, an ongoing data-driven series on how housing and migration are changing the Fraser Valley.

Part 1: How growth in the Fraser Valley has accelerated

Part 2: The widening east-west gap between home prices in the Fraser Valley 

Part 3: How home prices are driving eastward migration

MAP: Across the Fraser Valley, babies are booming. But some communities are welcoming more newborns than others.

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People move to the Fraser Valley for a lot of reasons. But you’ll never get a straight answer from one of the largest group of new arrivals: newborns.

Previous stories in this series have documented the eastward migration of residents within the Lower Mainland, the widening gap between home prices, and how those two factors have combined to swell the Fraser Valley’s population. But not everyone is equally involved in the great valley migration. Indeed, of all the people moving to the region, no arriving (and remaining) group is as large as newborns, infants, and the soon-to-be-born.

Until comprehensive census data is released later this year, we won’t have a ton of data on exactly who is moving where in the Fraser Valley. But we do already know one thing: their ages.

Statistics Canada has collected and released annual data on net in-province migration. Those figures are broken down for every age between 0 and 80. And especially when aggregated over 20 years, they show that children under one are contributing more to Chilliwack, Abbotsford, and Mission’s growing populations than any other single age. (Those figures don’t count babies actually born here.)

It translates to a flood of parents moving to the Fraser Valley within 12 months after having their first baby. It also means that relatively few new parents are opting to leave for somewhere else in BC.

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The finding confirms what anecdotes and logic have long suggested: as the price of family-sized homes has risen in the west, many have looked to the east to find a place to grow a family.

The Statistics Canada numbers vary enough to be skeptical about how accurate they are from year-to-year or from age-to-age for adults and teens. (We also don’t have numbers for Langley—which is lumped in with the rest of Metro Vancouver.) But combine 20 years of data together, and a few trends emerge.

In Abbotsford/Mission (which, as a joint “census metropolitan area” are combined in the data) and in Chilliwack, infants proliferate, with no other age group providing as many new residents. Over the last 20 years, about 1,400 more children under the age of one have moved to Abbotsford, Mission, and Chilliwack than have departed. The number is a little lower for one-year-olds, but still higher than any other age. For older children, the number of net migrants is significantly lower. That suggests that one of the most common reasons people move to the valley is the imminent arrival of a couple’s very first child.

The only other ages close to that level? That of adults around the age of 30. That is the age of many of those newborns’ parents—and when many adults who have not yet had children start arranging their lives to prepare for a family..

The data also suggests that the influx of new parents is essential to keeping the Fraser Valley young. That’s because there have also been large numbers of older people nearing retirement moving to the region.

Across almost all age groups, the region draws more intraprovincial migrants than it loses. That’s true for school-aged kids, for their parents, and for seniors. And while there are peaks for newborns and for adults around the age of 30, the rest of the data suggests a large diversity of people moving to Abbotsford, Mission and Chilliwack.

That’s true except for one age group: as soon as young people reach adulthood, they tend to flee the region. The trend is particularly severe in Abbotsford/Mission, where there has been a net loss of people for each age between 18 and 29. Chilliwack’s dip is less dramatic and occurs earlier, between the ages of 19 and 22. Those figures—especially ones from recent years—suggest that large numbers of young people start to depart around the age of 20 or 21.

In Chilliwack, the data suggests those departees either return relatively quickly or, if they don’t, are replaced by other newcomers. As Abbotsford and Mission are losing a large number of 25-, 26- and 27-year-olds, Chilliwack is gaining such residents. Those two things could be connected.

Because Abbotsford tends to gain people from the west but lose them to the east (In contrast to Chilliwack, where there is much less of an eastern exodus), the numbers are harder to parse there. That dynamic, along with year-to-year shifts, makes it harder to interpret the historic data. But what we can see is that many young adults leave the Fraser Valley, and a new wave returns when they reach the age of 30. That would suggest that the region is less attractive to 20-somethings; it’s also likely related to Abbotsford and Mission’s position in the centre of the valley, with lower home prices in Chilliwack luring new parents.

That’s why Anna Ralson moved to Chilliwack. She and her husband had grown up in Abbotsford. But in 2019, as they thought about starting a family they turned their eyes to the east.

It was a fortuitous timing. While home prices seemed expensive then, Ralston and her husband landed a townhouse in the Sardis area. They were in their early 30s and late 20s, respectively—at precisely the time when the data suggests many people end up moving to Chilliwack.

For the Ralstons, the decision was simple: they had roots in Abbotsford and went to church there. And Chilliwack was close enough.

“We were looking at house prices and Abbotsford was out of our price range,” she said. “That’s where our families live, but we were looking around and we came out to Chilliwack.”

The decision has worked out well.

“We really like the outdoor opportunities. We didn’t even know it until we moved here but we’re really close to the Vedder River, being in Sardis, and we walk along there all the time. “And we like that it was more of a small-town feel.”

And just like that, two young adults were added to the Statistics Canada figures for Chilliwack, and subtracted from Abbotsford-Mission’s tally. Last summer, one more addition was made: Ralston and her husband had their first child, a daughter who was one of 1,134 kids born to mothers living in Chilliwack last year.

Tomorrow, we’ll unveil data about which Fraser Valley towns and cities—and which parts of which cities—are seeing the most births.

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Tyler Olsen

Managing Editor at Fraser Valley Current

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