Families Count 2024: new resource on family structure now available

Families Count 2024 is now available

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Families Count 2024

Vanier Institute’s new resource explores three decades of change, continuity, and complexity among families in Canada. Released during the International Year of the Family’s 30th anniversary, Families Count 2024 provides statistical portraits of families in Canada, highlights trends over time, and offers insights on what it all means for families and family life.

Chapter 1 – Couples are less likely to get married

Across generations, marriage has become less common in Canada. In 2021, more than four in 10 people aged 15 and older were married (44.3%),1 down from 54.1% in 1991.2 The decline in the number of married people across generations can also be seen in the relative proportion of people under and over the age of 50 in couples who were married. In 2021, 67.9% of the population aged 15 to 49 living in couples were married, compared with 86.2% of those over 50 who were in couples.1

The decline in marriage can also be seen in the crude marriage rate. This is the total number of marriages registered in a given year, divided by the total population. This dropped from 6.1 marriages per 1,000 people in 1991 to 3.9 by 2019.3 In 2020, the rate dropped to a record low of 2.6 per 1,000. That year, there were 98,355 marriages registered in Canada, the lowest recorded since 1938 when the population was much smaller.4 This was largely due to barriers and restrictions resulting from COVID-19 public health measures.

Regardless of decreasing marriage rates, couples do continue to enter conjugal unions as much as in the past. In 2021, 56.9% of the population aged 15 and older were part of a couple, compared with 57.9% in 1921.5 But a growing number of couples are now living common-law instead of getting married. This is particularly the case in Quebec and Nunavut, where in 2021 only 57.3% and 48.2% of couples, respectively, were married (vs. 77.3% across Canada).6

Marriage is less common among same-gender couples than different-gender couples, partly because marriage between two people of the same sex has only been legal across Canada since 2005.a In 2021, 37.3% of same-gender couples were married, compared with 77.8% of different-gender couples.5

There is no single explanation for the decline in the proportion of couples getting married. The increasing preference among younger adults for common-law unions over marriage, population aging, the declining influence of religion in society, and the rising average age at marriage have all contributed to this trend.

Why this matters

The conjugal situation of couples in Canada has undergone a major evolution over the generations, with an increasing shift from marriage to common-law unions. But it is still the most common couple type. Understanding marriage trends is important because these unions are the context in which a lot of family experiences occur.

The decline in the proportion of couples who get married does not mean that more people are single or alone but that the nature of these relationships has continued to evolve alongside social, economic, cultural, and legal changes. Marriage was a norm because it was once seen by many people as the only legitimate means of forming and maintaining a family. For many couples today, marriage is no longer a prerequisite to living together or having children. The growing share of common-law unions has further diversified the pathways people can take to form a family.

Source: Statistics Canada. (2022, November 14). Number of marriages and nuptiality indicators.3

Sources: Statistics Canada. (1992). Population by age groups (21a) and sex (3), showing marital status (6) – Canada, provinces and territories, federal electoral districts and enumeration areas.7
Statistics Canada. (2023, March 29). Marital status, age group and gender: Canada, provinces and territories and economic regions.1


a What had been prohibited before 2005 was marriage between two persons of the same (legal) sex, regardless of their gender identity/expression. As understandings of gender have evolved, Statistics Canada replaced the term “same sex” with “same gender” in terminology related to couples and families.


References
  1. Statistics Canada. (2023, March 29). Table 98-10-0132-01 Marital status, age group and gender: Canada, provinces and territories and economic regions. https://doi.org/10.25318/9810013201-eng ↩︎
  2. Statistics Canada. (1993, June 1). Table 97-570-X1991003 Population by age groups (21a) and sex (3), showing marital status (6) – Canada, provinces and territories, census divisions and census subdivisions. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/catalogue/97-570-X1991003 ↩︎
  3. Statistics Canada. (2022, November 14). Table 39-10-0055-01 Number of marriages and nuptiality indicators. https://doi.org/10.25318/3910005501-eng ↩︎
  4. Statistics Canada. (2022, November 14). “I don’t”: Historic decline in new marriages during the first year of the pandemic. The Daily. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/221114/dq221114b-eng.htm ↩︎
  5. Statistics Canada. (2022, July 13). State of the union: Canada leads the G7 with nearly one-quarter of couples living common law, driven by Quebec. The Daily. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220713/dq220713b-eng.htm ↩︎
  6. Statistics Canada. (2022, July 13). Table 98-10-0123-01 Census family structure, presence of children and average number of persons per census family: Canada, provinces and territories, census metropolitan areas and census agglomerations. https://doi.org/10.25318/9810012301-eng ↩︎
  7. Statistics Canada. (1992). Table E9102 Population by age groups (21a) and sex (3), showing marital status (6) – Canada, provinces and territories, federal electoral districts and enumeration areas. https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/English/census91/data/tables/Rp-eng.cfm?LANG=E&APATH=3&DETAIL=1&DIM=0&FL=A&FREE=1&GC=0&GID=0&GK=0&GRP=1&PID=86&PRID=0&PTYPE=4&S=0&SHOWALL=No&SUB=0&Temporal=1991&THEME=101&VID=0&VNAMEE=&VNAMEF ↩︎