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August 1, 2018

What Does the Term “Military Family” Mean?

Download What Does the Term “Military Family” Mean? A Comparison Across Four Countries (PDF)

Defining “family” is important for family research and the provision of services, benefits and programs to Canadians and their loved ones. The same is true for military families, who have unique experiences that warrant focused attention from policy-makers and health officials, such as a higher degree of family mobility, separation and risk.1

In recent years, there has been significant growth in the body of research on military families – facilitated by organizations such as the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research (CIMVHR) – that reveals significant variation between countries in how they determine who is included in their definition. This can have a significant impact on our understanding of military families, since the definitions used in research (and therefore the nature and subject of the research itself) often vary. It can also have a direct impact on these families, since definitions can control access to services and benefits through eligibility criteria.

Research shows that families play a crucial role in supporting the health and well-being of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel and, in turn, their contributions support CAF operational readiness – realities that have been highlighted by the National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman.2 However, definitions of “military family” used in international research vary, and much of the Canadian research adheres to “traditional” ideals of family structure despite the evolution and increasing diversification of families over the years.3

In 2017, the Vanier Institute of the Family partnered with CIMVHR and a variety of researchers from Canada and abroad to compare the different definitions of “military family” being used by researchers and policy-makers in other allied countries (United Kingdom, United States, Australia and Canada). The resulting report, What Does the Term “Military Family” Mean? A Comparison Across Four Countries, explores the impact of these definitions on research and access to services.

Download What Does the Term “Military Family” Mean? A Comparison Across Four Countries (PDF)

Published on August 1, 2018



  1. Learn more in A Snapshot of Military and Veteran Families in Canada. Link: .
  2. National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman, On the Homefront: Assessing the Well-being of Canada’s Military Families in the New Millennium (November 2013). Link: .
  3. Learn more in A Snapshot of Family Diversity in Canada. Link: .