Families Count 2024: new resource on family structure now available

Families Count 2024 is now available

May 15, 2024

Then and Now: A 30-Year Look at Family Structures in Canada


Highlights from a new resource on family structure in Canada

May 15 is International Day of Families, a time to recognize the essential roles that family plays not only in our lives but also in the wellbeing and functioning of society. With 2024 being the 30th anniversary of the United Nations International Year of the Family, it is an important time to understand who families in Canada are today and what has changed for family life over the last three decades.

That’s one of the reasons the Vanier Institute has released a publication exploring these trends. Family Structure is the first release from Families Count 2024, a four-part series that highlights what families in Canada look like today and how they have changed since the inaugural International Year of the Family in 1994. Future releases will also explore family work, family identity, and family wellbeing.

The percentage of census families that included a common-law couple more than doubled

The percentage of census familiesa that included a common-law couple increased from 9.8% in 1991 to 22.7% in 2021.1 This shift is driven by the large number of common-law couples in Quebec, where more than four in 10 (42.7%) couples were common-law in 2021.2 Even so, the highest prevalence of common-law unions is in Nunavut, which became the first province or territory in the country with a majority of couples (51.7%) living common-law in 2021.

Learn more

Sources: Statistics Canada. (2008, February 19). Number of children at home (8) and census family structure (7) for the census families in private households of Canada, provinces, territories, census divisions, census subdivisions and dissemination areas, 2006 Census – 20% sample data. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/catalogue/97-553-X2006005

Statistics Canada. (2013, December 23). Number of children at home (8) and family structure (7A) for census families in private households, for Canada, provinces and territories, 1981 to 2001 censuses – 20% sample data. https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/English/census01/products/standard/ (link shortened)

Statistics Canada. (2018, May 30). Census family structure (7) and presence and ages of children (15) for census families in private households of Canada, provinces and territories, census metropolitan areas and census agglomerations, 2016 and 2011 censuses – 100% data. https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/ (link shortened)

Statistics Canada. (2022, July 13). 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

People are less likely to get married but just as likely to be part of a couple

The proportion of people aged 15 and older who were married declined from 54.1% in 19913 to 44.3% in 2021.4 During this period, the percentage of census families that included a married couple dropped from 77.3% to 64.6%.5 This is largely the result of the growing prevalence of common-law unions. Overall, the percentage of people aged 15 and older who were part of a couple changed little between 1991 (54.1%) and 2021 (56.9%).6

Learn more

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. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/catalogue/97-570-X1991003

Statistics Canada. (2023, March 29). Marital status, age group and gender: Canada, provinces and territories and economic regions. https://doi.org/10.25318/9810013201-eng

Younger age groups had higher divorce rates but also saw a larger decline in the rate

The divorce rate (i.e., the number of persons who divorce in a given year per 1,000 married persons) in Canada dropped from 12.7 per 1,000 married people in 1991 to 7.5 per 1,000 married people in 2019.7 Although their divorce rates were higher, those under 35 years of age saw a larger decline during this period, from 21.2 per 1,000 married people to 11.3 per 1,000 married people. Since 2015, their divorce rate has been roughly equivalent to the rate for those aged 35 to 49 years.

Learn more

Source: Statistics Canada. (2022, March 9). A fifty-year look at divorces in Canada, 1970 to 2020. The Daily. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220309/dq220309a-eng.htm

Fathers account for a growing share of parents in one-parent families

The percentage of census families that were one-parent families increased from 13.0% in 19918 to 16.4% in 2021.9 This proportion has been stable since 2011, when it stood at 16.3%. Although mothers have always represented a large majority of solo parents in Canada, the proportion that are fathers increased from 17.3% in 199110 to 22.8% in 2021.11 This pattern was similar across Canada, aside from being higher in Quebec (26.0%), Nunavut (30.4%), as well as Yukon and the Northwest Territories (26.8% each).

Learn more

Sources: Statistics Canada. (1996). Census families in private households by age groups of youngest never-married child at home (10), showing family structure (7), for Canada, provinces, territories and census metropolitan areas, 1991 and 1996 censuses (20% sample data). https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/English/census96/data/ (link shortened)

Statistics Canada. (2022, July 13). Census family structure including detailed information on stepfamilies, number of children, average number of children and age of youngest child: Canada, provinces and territories, census metropolitan areas and census agglomerations. https://doi.org/10.25318/9810012301-eng

Young adults are more likely to live with parents

The percentage of young adults aged 20 to 29 who lived with at least one parent increased from 32.1% in 1991 to 45.8% in 2021. Whether this was driven by necessity, preference, or both, living with parents was more common among men (49.4%) than women (42.0%) in their twenties in 2021. Across Canada, the highest percentages of young adults living with a parent were observed in Nunavut (54.7%) and Ontario (53.3%).

Learn more

Sources: Milan, A. (2016, June 15). Diversity of young adults living with their parents. Insights on Canadian Society. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-006-x/2016001/article/14639-eng.htm

Statistics Canada. (2022, July 13). Table 98-10-0137-01 Census family status and household living arrangements, presence of parent in household, age group and gender: Canada, provinces and territories, census metropolitan areas and census agglomerations. https://doi.org/10.25318/9810013701-eng


Note

a. The census family is the key concept used by Statistics Canada to measure families. It is defined as follows: “Census family is defined as a married couple and the children, if any, of either and/or both spouses; a couple living common law and the children, if any, of either and/or both partners; or a parent of any marital status in a one‑parent family with at least one child living in the same dwelling and that child or those children. All members of a particular census family live in the same dwelling.”


References

  1. Statistics Canada. (2012, September). Fifty years of families in Canada: 1961 to 2011. 2011 Analytical products. https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/as-sa/98-312-x/98-312-x2011003_1-eng.cfm ↩︎
  2. 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 ↩︎
  3. 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 ↩︎
  4. 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 ↩︎
  5. Statistics Canada. (2012, September). Fifty years of families in Canada: 1961 to 2011. 2011 Analytical products. https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/as-sa/98-312-x/98-312-x2011003_1-eng.cfm ↩︎
  6. 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 ↩︎
  7. Statistics Canada. (2022, March 9). A fifty-year look at divorces in Canada, 1970 to 2020. The Daily. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220309/dq220309a-eng.htm ↩︎
  8. Statistics Canada. (1996). Census families in private households by age groups of youngest never-married child at home (10), showing family structure (7), for Canada, provinces, territories and census metropolitan areas, 1991 and 1996 censuses (20% sample data). https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/English/census96/data/tables/Rp-eng.cfm?… ↩︎
  9. 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 ↩︎
  10. Statistics Canada. (1996). Census families in private households by age groups of youngest never-married child at home (10), showing family structure (7), for Canada, provinces, territories and census metropolitan areas, 1991 and 1996 censuses (20% sample data). https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/English/census96/data/tables/Rp-eng.cfm?… ↩︎
  11. 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 ↩︎