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In Conversation: Rachel Margolis on Divorce Trends in Canada

Nathan Battams

(February 10, 2020) Families in Canada have evolved considerably across generations, as have patterns of coupling (i.e. marriage, living common-law) and uncoupling (i.e. separation and divorce) that have an impact on families and family well-being. While a large and growing body of family research has documented how divorce can impact individuals and their families, our understanding of how this has changed over time has been significantly affected by a lack of publicly available vital statistics data in Canada over the past decade.

Rachel Margolis, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Western Ontario and panellist at the Families in Canada Conference 2019, joined Vanier Institute Communications Manager Nathan Battams to discuss Canada’s evolving data landscape in her recent study published in Demographic Research exploring recent divorce trends and the use of administrative data to fill the data gap on divorce.

Tell me about your recent study on divorce in Canada, and what made you interested in this topic…

This study, which was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), addresses an issue I’ve been thinking about for a long time. While doing my research and teaching demography over the years, I’ve often been frustrated by the fact that we haven’t had national measures on marriage and divorce in Canada since 2008, when vital statistics data stopped being analyzed and reported by Statistics Canada. My collaborators Youjin Choi, Feng Hou and Michael Haan all worked on this project with me to learn about recent changes in divorce.

The real motivation for this study was to strengthen our understanding of demographic changes in Canada.

This is important because marriage and divorce data provide important and unique measures for studying families and family life. It matters for understanding fertility trends, since formal unions are the context in which most babies are born. It matters for understanding family finances, since formal unions are vehicles for wealth accumulation, and they can tell us a lot about family resources and provisions, such as housing and caregiving. The real motivation for this study was to strengthen our understanding of demographic changes in Canada.

Historically, information on marriage and divorce in Canada has been collected and managed by a system called Vital Statistics. Vital statistics exist in most countries in some form as the means of collecting population data on things like marriage, divorce, births and deaths, although some countries have recently moved away from this mode of data collection and are exploring alternate strategies. In the United States, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) discontinued divorce and marriage statistics in 1996, as it was argued that similar data could be collected more easily and inexpensively through surveys, which are now used to gather information about marriage and divorce rates.

And while we haven’t had data published by Statistics Canada on marriage and divorce trends since 2008, there hasn’t been any alternative data source in place, like there is in the U.S. The decision to stop publishing these data was made for a variety of reasons, including fiscal constraints, some problems with data compatibility across provinces and territories, and a reported underutilization of these data online. But with no alternative data source, there has since been a decade-long data gap on marriage and divorce in Canada.

The first data gap this study sought to address was whether other types of data can fill this gap. Though some researchers have already used administrative data to look at the effects of changes in marital status on other outcomes, we haven‘t really assessed the quality of these divorce measures.1

Second, there has been no national data on how the divorce rate in Canada has changed since vital statistics data collection ceased in 2008. Since then, research on divorce in Canada has relied on information about the current marital or conjugal status of individuals, which doesn’t provide divorce rates. The latter are important to track because they tell us a lot about how things are changing over time. Current marital status is not an effective indicator of divorce because many people who divorce later repartner and/or remarry. Our study used anonymized administrative data from tax records to estimate the divorce rate – the first to do so.

A third gap is that we don’t have information on the changing age patterns of divorce in Canada since 2008. We do know that there are significant shifts taking place in comparable countries, such as the United States, and in Europe. In the U.S., we know that divorce rates among those aged 50 and older – often referred to as “grey divorce” – doubled in the 1990s and 2000s. There are a lot of reasons for this, but many of the same trends happening among baby boomers in the U.S. are likely happening to boomers in Canada as well. But, with no data, we don’t really know whether there’s also been a “grey divorce revolution” in Canada.

What did you find in your study on divorce in Canada?

First of all, we found that the divorce rate in Canada can indeed be measured somewhat well with administrative data, when comparing it with vital statistics data before 2008. When we extrapolate after 2008 with this approach, we see a decline in the annual divorce rate between 2009 and 2016. The annual divorce rate was about 10 divorces per 1,000 married women in the early 2000s and this declined starting in 2006, reaching 6 divorces per 1,000 married women in 2016.

Second, we found a shifting age distribution among people getting divorced. In the early 1990s, most divorces in Canada were granted to people in their 20s and 30s. Fifty-one percent of all divorces were granted to women aged 20–39, 42% went to those 40–59 and only 7% to those 60 and above. Over the last 20 years, it has become more common for divorces to occur later. For example, in 2016, only 28% of divorces were granted to women 20–39, 57% were to women 40–59 and 15% to those 60 and above. Divorce, then, has become increasingly common at older ages.

Fewer people are getting married and those that do get married are more likely to be from groups with lower divorce rates.

Third, there have been changes in divorce rates for both younger and older Canadians. Divorce rates among adults in their 20s and 30s fell by about 30% in the last decade. Research from other countries helps explain this, as fewer people are getting married and those that do get married are more likely to be from groups with lower divorce rates (highly educated with lots of resources), and they are therefore less likely to get divorced while in this age group, and those who do are in potentially higher quality marriages than they were in the past.2 Even though age-specific divorce rates are highest for younger women, they’ve been declining over the period of our analysis.

Meanwhile, divorce rates for older people in Canada have increased slightly through the 1990s and 2000s, but nothing as significant as the “grey divorce revolution” in the U.S., and this now seems to have ceased. In the U.S., divorce rates for those aged 50 and older doubled between 1990 and 2010, from 4.87 to 10.05 divorces per 1,000 married persons.3 We found that the comparable increase in Canada between 1991 and 2008 was from 4.02 to 5.17 divorces per 1,000 married persons during this period (+25%). Since 2008, we find no further increase in divorce rates for older adults in Canada.

Divorce rates for older people in Canada have increased slightly through the 1990s and 2000s, but nothing as significant as the “grey divorce revolution” in the U.S.

The fourth thing we explored was comparing divorce trends in Canada with what’s been seen in the U.S. We found that trends in divorce in Canada are similar to trends in the U.S. Divorce rates were relatively flat in the 1990s and early 2000s and then declined more recently (see Figure 1). However, one important difference is that divorce rates are about half in Canada of what they are in the U.S. For example, for most of the 1990s and early 2000s, divorce rates in the U.S. sat at about 20 divorces per 1,000 married women, and the Canadian rate was about 10 divorces per 1,000 married women. More recently, divorce rates in the U.S. were 16.7 divorces per 1,000 married women in 2016, and the comparable number for Canada is 6.22.

Overall, we found that using tax data provided invaluable insights into recent trends in divorce in Canada and helps inform whether administrative data can be used to fill the data gap on divorce. However, we also found important caveats regarding data quality in recent years, as coverage rates of divorced people in the tax data has declined to some degree (i.e. divorces have been undercounted in tax data relative to vital statistics). This is potentially problematic, because it could lead us to increasingly underestimate divorce in the tax data over time, and it could become unclear how much of a decline in divorce in recent years is due to a decline in data quality.

Looking ahead, as a family researcher, how would you complete the phrase “Wouldn’t it be great if…”

To address data gaps, there’s been a growing focus in Canada and other countries to use administrative data rather than survey data to learn about the population. There are many reasons for this and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but we have to be careful about different issues that arise with data quality – and that’s what we found when we used tax data to look at divorce trends.

In wanting to address this, I would say, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could add questions about marriage and divorce in the last year to a large annual survey in Canada with a known high response rate?” A survey with a large enough sample size, such as Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey or the long-form census, could serve as an efficient and reliable vehicle for collecting these important data.

We can also learn from our neighbours to the south, who added questions about recent changes in marital status to the American Community Survey in 2008. This could provide answers to how marriage and divorce are changing and how the percentage of marriages that will end in divorce is changing over time – invaluable insights for researchers, policy makers, service providers and others with an interest in families in Canada.

Rachel Margolis, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Western Ontario and a Vanier Institute of the Family contributor.

Nathan Battams is Communications Manager at the Vanier Institute of the Family.

Access the study in Demographic Research (open access):

Rachel Margolis, PhD, Youjin Choi, PhD, Feng Hou, PhD, and Michael Haan, PhD, “Capturing Trends in Canadian Divorce in an Era Without Vital Statistics,” Demographic Research 41, Article 52 (December 20, 2019). Link: .

More from Rachel Margolis:

  • Rachel Margolis, Grandparent Health and Family Well-Being, The Vanier Institute of the Family. Link: https://bit.ly/2Ugvm9s.
  • Rachel Margolis, Feng Hou, Michael Haan and Anders Holm, “Use of Parental Benefits by Family Income in Canada: Two Policy Changes,” Journal of Marriage and Family 81(2) (November 13, 2018). Link: https://bit.ly/2RTPSuN.
  • Rachel Margolis and Laura Wright, “Healthy Grandparenthood: How Long Is It, and How Has It Changed?,” Demography 54 (October 10, 2017). Link: .
  • Rachel Margolis, “The Changing Demography of Grandparenthood,” Journal of Marriage and Family 78(3) (March 14, 2016). Link: https://bit.ly/380Ow7c.
  • Rachel Margolis and Natalie Iciaszczyk, “The Changing Health of Canadian Grandparents,” Canadian Studies in Population 42(3-4): 63-76. Link:.


  1. This study did not focus on separations. Relative to the number of divorced people, the number who are legally separated but not divorced is small, and most separations end in divorce. In addition, separation rates are not a traditional demographic measure.
  2. Phillip N. Cohen, “The Coming Divorce Decline,” Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World 5 (August 28, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/2RK7J7j.
  3. Susan L. Brown and Lin I-Fen, “The Gray Divorce Revolution: Rising Divorce Among Middle-Aged and Older Adults, 1990–2010,” The Journals of Gerontology: Series B 67(6) (2012). Link:.


A Snapshot of Grandparents in Canada (May 2019 Update)

Canada’s grandparents are a diverse group. Many of them contribute greatly to family functioning and well-being in their roles as mentors, nurturers, caregivers, child care providers, historians, spiritual guides and “holders of the family narrative.”

As Canada’s population ages and life expectancy continues to rise, their presence in the lives of many families may also increase accordingly in the years to come. With the number of older Canadians in the workforce steadily increasing, they are playing a greater role in the paid labour market – a shift felt by families who rely on grandparents to help provide care to their grandchildren or other family members. All the while, the living arrangements of grandparents continue to evolve, with a growing number living with younger generations and contributing to family households.

Using newly released data from the 2017 General Social Survey, we’ve updated our popular resource A Snapshot of Grandparents in Canada, which provides a statistical portrait of grandparents, their family relationships and some of the social and economic trends at the heart of this evolution.


  • In 2017, 47% of Canadians aged 45 and older were grandparents, down from 57% in 1995.1
  • In 2017, the average age of grandparents was 68 (up from 65 in 1995), while the average age of first-time grandparents was 51 for women and 54 for men in 2017.2, 3
  • In 2017, nearly 8% of grandparents were aged 85 and older, up from 3% in 1995.4
  • In 2017, 5% of grandparents in Canada lived in the same household as their grandchildren, up slightly from 4% in 1995.5
  • In 2017, grandparents who were born outside Canada were more than twice as likely as Canadian-born grandparents to live with grandchildren (9% and 4%, respectively), the result of a complex interplay of choice, culture and circumstance.6

Published on May 28, 2019

1 Statistics Canada, “Family Matters: Grandparents in Canada,” The Daily (February 7, 2019). Link: .
2 Ibid.
3 No comparator provided because this is the first time the question has been asked in the General Social Survey.
4 Ibid.
5 Statistics Canada, “Family Matters: Grandparents in Canada.”
6 Ibid.

2018 UPDATE: A Snapshot of Military and Veteran Families in Canada

Canada’s military and Veteran families are diverse, resilient and strong, and they are a source of pride for the country. They engage with – and play important roles in – their workplaces, communities and society as a whole.

The “military journey” is often characterized by mobility, absence and the risk of illness, injury or death. Professionals and practitioners can benefit from “military literacy” – an understanding of the unique experiences and lifestyle characteristics of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel, Veterans and their families. To enhance understanding of these families and their experiences, the Vanier Institute of the Family is highlighting new research and data1 on military and Veteran families in Canada with a 2018 update of .

Military families experience high mobility and frequent periods of separation

  • Every year in Canada, an estimated 10,000 military families are relocated due to postings (8,000 of whom move to new provinces), which accounts for one-quarter of all Regular Forces personnel in Canada.
  • In 2018, among surveyed CAF Regular Force members, nearly three in 10 (29%) reported that they had relocated at least four times due to military postings throughout their career.
  • In 2017, two-thirds of Regular Forces personnel reported experiencing extended absences from their family.

Military children are affected by relocations, but they are resilient and most adjust quickly

  • Research shows that while most military children do find relocation stressful, they are resilient, and this stress typically diminishes within a half-year after moving.
  • In 2016, among surveyed CAF parents, only one in 10 (10%) reported that their child(ren) “had trouble adjusting after moving/relocation,” while nearly half (47%) did not experience any issues.

The majority of Veterans and their families do not experience difficulties in transition to civilian life

  • In 2016, Veterans were more likely to report that the transition to civilian life was easy compared with those who said it was difficult for themselves and their families.
    • 52% said the transition was “easy” for themselves, 32% said it was “difficult.”
    • 57% said the transition was “easy” for their partners, 28% said it was “difficult.”
    • 60% said the transition was “easy” for their children, 17% said it was “difficult.”
  • Nearly nine in 10 Veterans reported being satisfied/very satisfied with life (86%) and their family (88%).


  1. Source information can be found in the document.

Facts and Stats: Divorce, Separation and Uncoupling in Canada

Just as families continuously evolve, so do the interpersonal relationships at the heart of family life. Every year, thousands of Canadians come together to form committed family relationships – some of whom decide to raise children together – and sometimes, a variety of reasons may compel them to end their relationship, which can result in diverse, unique and often difficult transitional experiences for the family.

Patterns of coupling or partnering and uncoupling or unpartnering have evolved throughout Canada’s history in response to social, economic, cultural and legal changes. While divorce rates were low for most of the 20th century due to restrictive social norms and legal processes, there has since been an increase in the share of families who have experienced separation, divorce and uncoupling – particularly following the liberalization of divorce through the 1968 Divorce Act and further amendments in 1986.

Whether it’s separation and divorce following a marriage, or the uncoupling of a common-law union, this change can be emotionally, socially, legally and/or financially challenging for family members. Current research shows, however, that the impact on adults and children – including the speed and degree of adjustment – varies widely and is shaped by post-divorce circumstances, access to community programs and services, as well as the availability of information, resources and support during the transition.

In May 2018, the federal government proposed amendments to the Divorce Act to mitigate the adversarial nature of family court proceedings following separation and divorce. These changes are meant to serve the “best interests of the children,” and include defining what these “best interests” are, updating adversarial language such as “custody” and “access” to terms that include “parenting orders” and “parenting time,” establishing clear guidelines for when one parent wants to relocate with a child, making it easier for people to collect support payments, strengthening the capacity of courts to address family violence and compelling lawyers to encourage clients to use family-dispute resolution services, such as mediation.

In this evolving social, cultural and legal context, our new fact sheet uses data from the General Social Survey1 to explore family experiences of divorce, separation and uncoupling in Canada.

Highlights include:

  • In 2017, an estimated 9% of Canadians aged 15 and older were divorced or separated (and not living common law), up from 8% in 1997.
  • In 2016, surveyed Canadian lawyers reported charging an average $1,770 in total fees for uncontested divorce cases and $15,300 for contested divorce cases.
  • In 2011, nearly 1 in 5 Canadians (19%) said that their parents are divorced or separated, nearly twice the share in 2001 (10%).
  • In 2011, two-thirds (66%) of divorced Canadians said they do not have remarriage intentions (23% said they were uncertain).




  1. The most recent data available on this topic is from 2011. This fact sheet will be updated when new data is released in Fall 2018.

Families in Canada Interactive Timeline

Today’s society and today’s families would have been difficult to imagine, let alone understand, a half-century ago. Data shows that families and family life in Canada have become increasingly diverse and complex across generations – a reality highlighted when one looks at broader trends over time.

But even as families evolve, their impact over the years has remained constant. This is due to the many functions and roles they perform for individuals and communities alike – families are, have been and will continue to be the cornerstone of our society, the engine of our economy and at the centre of our hearts.

Learn about the evolution of families in Canada over the past half-century with our Families in Canada Interactive Timeline – a online resource from the Vanier Institute that highlights trends on diverse topics such as motherhood and fatherhood, family relationships, living arrangements, children and seniors, work–life, health and well-being, family care and much more.

View the Families in Canada Interactive Timeline.*


Full topic list:

  • Motherhood
    o Maternal age
    o Fertility
    o Labour force participation
    o Education
    o Stay-at-home moms
  • Fatherhood
    o Family relationships
    o Employment
    o Care and unpaid work
    o Work–life
  • Demographics
    o Life expectancy
    o Seniors and elders
    o Children and youth
    o Immigrant families
  • Families and Households
    o Family structure
    o Family finances
    o Household size
    o Housing
  • Health and Well-Being
    o Babies and birth
    o Health
    o Life expectancy
    o Death and dying

View all source information for all statistics in Families in Canada Interactive Timeline.


* Note: The timeline is accessible only via desktop computer and does not work on smartphones.

Published February 8, 2018

A Snapshot of Family Diversity in Canada (February 2018)

For more than 50 years, the Vanier Institute of the Family has monitored, studied and discussed trends in families and family life in Canada. From the beginning, the evidence has consistently made one thing clear: there is no single story to tell, because families are as diverse as the people who comprise them.

This has always been the case, whether one examines family structures, family identities, family living arrangements, family lifestyles, family experiences or whether one looks at the individual traits of family members, such as their ethnocultural background, immigration status, sexual orientation or their diverse abilities.

Building on our recent infographic, Family Diversity in Canada (2016 Census Update), our new Statistical Snapshot publication provides an expanded and more detailed portrait of modern families in Canada, as well as some of the trends that have shaped our vibrant and evolving family landscape over the years. Based on current data and trend analysis, this overview shows that diversity is, was and will continue to be a key characteristic of family life for generations to come – a reality that contributes to Canada’s dynamic and evolving society.

Highlights include:

  • According to Statistics Canada, there were 9.8 million Census families living across Canada in 2016.
  • 66% of families in Canada include a married couple, 18% are living common-law and 16% are lone-parent families – diverse family structures that continuously evolve.
  • Among Canada’s provinces, people in Quebec stand out with regard to couple/relationship formation, with a greater share living common-law than the rest of Canada (40% vs. 16%, respectively) and fewer married couples (60% vs. 84%, respectively) in 2016.
  • In 2016, 1.7 million people in Canada reported having an Aboriginal identity: 58% First Nations, 35% Métis, 3.9% Inuk (Inuit), 1.4% other Aboriginal identity and 1.3% with more than one Aboriginal identity.
  • In 2016, 22% of people in Canada reported that they were born outside the country – up from 16% in 1961.
  • In 2016, more than 1 in 5 people in Canada (22%) reported belonging to a visible minority group, 3 in 10 of whom were born in Canada.
  • 73,000 same-sex couples were counted in the 2016 Census, 12% of whom are raising children.
  • In 2016, there were nearly 404,000 multi-generational households in Canada – the fastest-growing household type since 2001 (+38%).
  • In 2011, 22% of Inuk (Inuit) grandparents, 14% of First Nations grandparents and 5% of Métis grandparents lived with their grandchildren, compared with 3.9% of among non-Indigenous grandparents.
  • In 2014, 1 in 5 Canadians aged 25 to 64 reported living with at least one disability. Disability rates were higher for women (23%) than men (18%).
  • More than one-quarter (27%) of Canadians surveyed in 2014 said religion is “very important” in their lives.
  • One-quarter of Canadians reported “no religious affiliation” in the 2011 Census (most recent data available), up from 17% in 2001.


Infographic: Canada’s Families on the Farm

Family farms have played a significant role in Canada’s history, both in terms of the contributions that agriculture has provided in the development of local and provincial economies, and with regard to the role farming has played in shaping community and familial identities. Farming has a strong impact on the lives of families involved in the practice, as it is a unique experience that ties together notions of home, work, culture and kinship.

The evolution of farm families in Canada reflects some of the broader trends that are shaping the “family landscape” across the country, such as population aging, smaller families, a growing share of women in the labour force, the increased use of technology at work and a diversification of family income sources.

To explore Canada’s farm families, the Vanier Institute of the Family has published an infographic that features data from the 2016 Census of Agriculture.

Highlights include:

  • Canada was home to more than 193,000 farms in 2016, down 5.9% from 2011.
  • Canada was home to nearly 102,000 farm families in 2013, and the number of farm families decreased every year over the prior decade.
  • The average age of farm operators increased from 47.5 years in 1991 to 55 years in 2016.
  • The number of farm families with two family members rose from 43% in 2003 to 51% in 2013, while the share with five or more fell from 19% to 14%.
  • 8.4% of all farms across Canada in 2016 reported having a written succession plan, and a family member was identified as the successor for 96% of these farms.
  • In 2015, 57% of operators aged 60 and over were on farms that reported the use of technology, compared with 81% for those under the age of 40.


Learn more in “Families on the Farm: A Portrait of Generations and Migrant Workers in Canada,” a chapter prepared by the Vanier Institute for Deep Roots, published by the United Nations as part the International Year of Family Farming.


Published on January 16, 2018

Grandparent Health and Family Well-Being

Rachel Margolis, Ph.D.

Canada’s 7.1 million grandparents and great-grandparents make unique, diverse and valuable contributions to families and society, serving as role models, nurturers, historians, sources of experiential knowledge and more. As with the general population, the grandparent population in Canada is aging rapidly, sparking some concern in the media and public discourse about the potential impact of this “grey tsunami.”

However, despite being older, data show that the health of grandparents has improved over the past 30 years. This trend can positively impact families, since healthy grandparents can have a higher capacity to contribute to family life and help younger generations manage family responsibilities such as child care and household finances.

Improving grandparent health enhances their capacity to contribute to family life and help younger generations manage family responsibilities.

Canada is aging, and so are its grandparents

The aging of the grandparent population mirrors broader population aging trends across the country. According to the most recent Census in 2016, 16.9% of Canada’s population are seniors, nearly double the share in 1981 (9.6%) and the highest proportion to date. This growth is expected to continue over the next several decades: projections show that nearly one-quarter (23%) of Canadians will be 65 or older by 2031. Furthermore, the oldest Canadians (aged 100 and over) are currently the fastest-growing age group: there were 8,200 centenarians in 2016 (up 41% since 2011), and projections from Statistics Canada show that this group is likely to reach nearly 40,000 by 2051.

In this context, it’s perhaps no surprise that the overall grandparent population is also aging. The share of grandparents who are seniors grew from 41% in 1985 to 53% in 2011, and the share of grandparents who are aged 80 and older has grown even faster, nearly doubling from 6.8% in 1985 to 13.5% in 2011.

Life expectancy increases fuel grandparent population aging

One of the underlying factors fuelling the aging of the grandparent population is the fact that Canadians are living longer. According to Statistics Canada, life expectancy at birth has continued to rise steadily, reaching 83.8 years for women and 79.6 years for men in 2011–2013. This represents an increase of about a decade over the past half-century, with women and men gaining 9.5 years and 11.2 years, respectively, since the years 1960–1962.

In addition, more people are reaching seniorhood than in the past because of mortality declines at ages below age 65. Data from Statistics Canada shows that the average share of female newborns who can expect to reach age 65 rose from 86% for those born in 1980–1982 to 92% for those born in 2011–2013, while this share increased from 75% to 87% for males during the same period.

People are also living longer as seniors, as reflected in ongoing increases in life expectancy at age 65 – a useful measure of the well-being of older populations since it excludes mortality for those who do not reach seniorhood. According to estimates from Statistics Canada, life expectancy at age 65 in 2011–2013 was 21.9 years for women and 19 years for men – up by 3 years and 4.4 years, respectively, from 1980 to 1982.

Delayed fertility contributes to the aging of the grandparent population since it increases the age of transitioning into grandparenthood.

Another contributing factor to the aging of grandparents is the fact that on average, women are having children at older ages than in the past – a fertility trend that increases the age of transitioning into grandparenthood. The average age of first-time mothers has risen steadily since 1970, from 23.7 to 28.8 years in 2013. The number of first-time mothers aged 40 and older has also grown, rising from 1,172 in 1993 to 3,648 in 2013 (+210%). As more women postpone childbearing until later in life, their transition to grandparenthood will also likely occur later. Today’s new grandparents are baby boomers, a generation in which many women delayed fertility for education and work experience. Their children are also having children later, and the fertility postponement of two generations together is influencing the pattern of later entry into grandparenthood.

Despite the aging of grandparents, grandparenthood accounts for a growing portion of many people’s lives. Even though people are becoming grandparents later, they are living longer as grandparents. The longer period of time spent in the grandparent role can extend opportunities for forming, nurturing and strengthening relationships with younger generations. According to my recent research, the average number of years that someone can expect to spent as a grandparent given today’s demography in Canada is 24.3 years for women and 18.9 years for men – that’s approximately two decades in which they can continue to play a major role in family life.

Despite being older, grandparents are healthier

In addition to living longer, data from the General Social Survey (GSS) suggest that grandparents in Canada today are far more likely to report living in good health than in the past. The proportion who rate their health as “good/very good/excellent” has increased from 70% in 1985 to 77% in 2011, while the share reporting “fair/poor” health has fallen from 31% to 23%. Overall, the odds of grandparents reporting that they are in good health are 44% higher in 2011 than in 1985.

A number of trends have contributed to health improvements among grandparents and older Canadians in general over the past half-century. There have been significant advances in public health that have facilitated disease prevention, detection and treatment. Among other factors, this has led to major reductions in deaths from circulatory system diseases (e.g. heart disease), which has been one of the biggest contributors to gains in life expectancy among men over the past half-century.

Another factor contributing to improvements in the health of grandparents in Canada is the rising educational attainment of this population. Research shows that education can improve health both in direct and indirect ways throughout life. Direct impacts can include enhancing one’s health literacy, knowledge, interactions with the health care system and patients’ ability and willingness to advocate for themselves when engaging with health care providers. Indirect impacts can include an increase in one’s resources (e.g. income) or occupational opportunities (e.g. being less likely to have a physically demanding and/or risky job, and more likely to have a job with health benefits).

Education has been associated with greater health, which is significant because the share of grandparents who have completed post-secondary education has more than tripled over the past three decades.

These are important factors to consider in the Canadian context, since the share of grandparents who have completed post-secondary education has more than tripled over the past three decades, from 13% in 1985 to nearly 40% by 2011.

Healthy grandparents can facilitate family well-being

Grandparent health can have a significant impact on families. When a grandparent (or multiple grandparents) is living in poor health, families are often the first to provide, manage or pay for care that supports their well-being. This is particularly true for senior grandparents receiving care at home; the Health Council of Canada estimates that families provide between 70% and 75% of all home care received by seniors in Canada.

Data from the 2012 GSS show that nearly 3 in 10 Canadians (28%) reported providing caregiving to a family member in the past year, and aging-related needs were the most commonly cited reason for care (reported by 28% of caregivers). Grandparents accounted for 13% of all Canadians who received care, and they were also the most frequent recipients of young caregivers’ (aged 15 to 29) assistance, 4 in 10 of whom cited a grandparent as the primary recipient.

While 95% of caregivers say they’re effectively coping with their caregiving responsibilities, research has found that in some contexts, it can have a negative impact on their well-being, career development and family finances. This can be particularly true for the three-quarters of caregivers who are also in the paid labour force, accounting for more than one-third of all working Canadians.

On the other hand, when grandparents are living in good health, families can benefit in a variety of ways. In addition to the fact that it means they are less likely to require caregiving assistance, they are also more likely to be able to make positive contributions to family life, such as providing child care and contributing to family finances.

Grandparents provide child care to younger generations

Many grandparents play an important role in caring for their grandchildren, which can help parents in the “middle generation” manage their child care and paid work responsibilities. A number of economic, social and environmental trends have converged in recent decades that have increased the significant contributions they make to families with regard to child care.

Many grandparents play an important role in caring for their grandchildren, which can help parents in the “middle generation” manage their child care and paid work responsibilities.

Over the past four decades, the share of dual-earner couples in Canada has increased; in 1976, 36% of couples with children included two earners, a rate that nearly doubled to 69% by 2014. In more than half of these couples (51%), both parents worked full-time, which means they were more likely to rely on non-parental care for their children. This is supported by data from the 2011 GSS: while nearly half (46%) of all parents reported relying on some type of child care for their children aged 14 years and younger in the past year, the rate was higher (71%) for dual-earner parents with children aged 0 to 4 and children aged 5 to 14 (49%).

The evolution in family structure and composition across generations has also contributed to more families relying on non-parental care for their children. The share of lone-parent families has increased significantly over the past 50 years, rising from 8.4% of all families in 1961 to approximately 16% in 2016. Data from the 2011 GSS show that nearly 6 in 10 lone parents of children aged 4 and under (58%) report that they rely on non-parental care.

Sometimes grandparents are solely responsible for raising their grandchildren when no middle (i.e. parent) generation is present. The 2011 GSS counted 51,000 of these “skip-generation families” in Canada, which was home to 12% of all grandparents who live with their grandchildren. Some of those who live with their children are more likely than others to live in skip-generation homes, such as people reporting a First Nations (28%), Métis (28%) or Inuit (18%) identity (compared with 11% among the non-Indigenous population).

Lastly, many parents may rely on grandparents for help with child care if they can’t find quality, regulated child care spaces in their communities. In 2014, the availability in regulated, centre-based child care spaces was only sufficient for one-quarter (24%) of children aged 5 and under across Canada. While this is a significant increase from 12% in 1992, it still leaves more than 3 in 4 children in this age group without an available regulated child care space. The availability of child care (or a lack thereof) is significant, since it can affect whether or not parents in coupled families can both participate in the paid labour market.

The cost of child care can also lead parents to turn to grandparents for child care assistance. This is particularly true for families living in urban centres. One 2015 study on the cost of child care in Canadian cities, which used administrative fee data and randomized phone surveys conducted with child care centres and homes, found that the highest rates in Canada were in Toronto, where estimates showed median unsubsidized rates of $1,736 per month for full-day infant care (under 18 months of age) and $1,325 for toddlers (aged 1½ to 3).

Grandparent involvement can enhance child well-being

Regardless of the reason grandparents spend time with their grandchildren, their involvement in family life can benefit the well-being of children. Studies have shown that grandparent involvement in family life is significantly associated with child well-being – in particular, it has been associated with greater prosocial behaviours and school involvement. The benefits aren’t limited to children, either, as other research has shown that close relationships between grandparents and grandchildren can have a positive impact on mental health for both. Among First Nations families, grandparents have also been found to play an important role in supporting cultural health and healing among younger generations.

Research shows that grandparent involvement in family life is significantly associated with child well-being, including greater prosocial behaviours and school involvement.

The broader context of improving grandparent health is good news for many families, since their better health can make it easier to participate in activities with children and grandchildren, and research shows that these interactions with younger kin can be more rewarding in this context.

Many grandparents play an important role in family finances

Improvements in grandparent health can also enhance their capacity to engage in paid work, which can improve their own finances and facilitate contributions to younger generations.

Improvements in grandparent health also enhance their capacity to engage in paid work, which can improve their own finances and facilitate contributions to younger generations.

While there isn’t much recent data on the employment patterns of grandparents in Canada per se, rising rates of working seniors have been well documented over the past several decades. Between 1997 and 2003, the paid labour force participation rate for seniors ranged between 6% and 7%, but this has steadily increased to around 14% in the first half of 2017 (and an even higher rate of 27% for those aged 65 to 69). Since approximately 8 in 10 seniors in Canada are grandparents, it’s clear that a growing number of grandparents are working today.

The potential for grandparents to contribute to family finances through paid work can be particularly important for the 8% who live in multi-generational households. According to data from the 2016 Census, this is the fastest-growing household type, having grown in number by nearly 38% between 2011 and 2016 to reach 403,810 homes. Similar to patterns found among skip-generation families, this living arrangement is more common among Indigenous and immigrant families, which both represent a growing share of families in Canada.

Skip-generation living arrangements are more common among Indigenous and immigrant families, which both represent a growing share of families in Canada.

Data from the 2011 GSS showed that among the 584,000 grandparents living in these types of homes, more than half (50.3%) reported that they have financial responsibilities in the household. Some were more likely than others to contribute to family finances: rates were significantly higher for those living in skip-generation households (80%) and multi-generational households with a lone-parent middle generation (75%).

Opportunities are growing for grandparent–family relationships

While the aging of the general and grandparent population in Canada presents certain societal challenges, notably with regard to community care, housing, transportation and income security, their rising life expectancy and improving health present growing opportunities for individuals and families. Many grandparents already help younger generations with fulfilling family responsibilities, such as child care and managing family finances, and this will continue in the years ahead – a positive side of the story that is often lost in narratives about the “grey tsunami.”

As the health of grandparents has improved over the years, many have been able to enjoy a greater quantity and quality of relationships with younger family members. As families adapt and react to their evolving social, economic and cultural contexts, they will continue to play an important – and likely growing – role in family life for generations to come.


Rachel Margolis, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Western Ontario.


All references and source information can be found in the PDF version of this article.

Published on September 5, 2017

Infographic: Modern Couples in Canada

Just as families have evolved across generations, so too have the couple relationships that are a major part of Canada’s “family landscape.” This perpetual change is both a reflection of and a driving force behind some of the evolving social, economic, cultural and environmental forces that shape family life.

Dating, marriage, cohabitation, common-law relationships – the ways people choose to come together, or decide to move apart, are as diverse as the couples themselves. There are, however, some broad trends being witnessed across the country, with family structures diversifying, people forming couple relationships at later ages and family finances taking on a more egalitarian structure.

Using new data from the 2016 Census, the Vanier Institute of the Family has published an infographic on modern couples in Canada.

Highlights include:

  • In 2016, married couples accounted for 79% of all couples in Canada, down from 93% in 1981.
  • One-quarter of “never-married” Canadians say they don’t intend to get married.
  • In 2016, 21% of all couples in Canada were living common-law, up from 6% in 1981.
  • The share of twentysomething women (37%) and men (25%) living in couples has nearly halved since 1981 (falling from 59% and 45%, respectively).
  • In 2016, 12.4% of all couple families in Canada with children under 25 were stepfamilies, down slightly from 12.6% in 2011.
  • There are 73,000 same-sex couples in Canada, 12% of whom are raising children.
  • 1 in 5 surveyed Canadians reported in 2011 that their parents are separated or divorced, up from 10% in 2001.
  • The share of people living in mixed unions nearly doubled between 1991 and 2011, from 2.6% to 4.6%.1
  • 69% of couples with children were dual-earner couples in 2014, up from 36% in 1976.



  1. Statistics Canada defines a mixed union as “a couple in which one spouse or partner belongs to a visible minority group and the other does not, as well as a couple in which the two spouses or partners belong to different visible minority groups.”

A Snapshot of Population Aging and Intergenerational Relationships in Canada

Canada’s population is aging rapidly, with a higher share of seniors than ever before. While this can present some societal challenges, it also provides growing opportunities for intergenerational relationships, since younger people have a greater likelihood of having more seniors and elders in their lives. Population aging has an impact not only on family relationships, but also on the social, economic, cultural and environmental contexts in which families live.

Using new statistics from the 2016 Census, explores the evolving demographic landscape across the country through a family lens. As the data shows, Canadians are getting older, and “seniorhood” is a growing life stage – a time when many of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents are continuing to play important roles in our families, workplaces and communities.

Highlights include:

  • There are more seniors than ever before in Canada. More than 5.9 million people in Canada are aged 65 and older – up 20% since 2011 and now outnumbering children (5.8 million).
  • Nunavut is the youngest region in Canada. Children account for one-third (33%) of the population in Nunavut.
  • We’re more likely to become seniors than in the past. In 2012, nine in 10 Canadians were expected to reach age 65, up from six in 10 in 1925.
  • The number of multi-generational households is growing. In 2011, 1.3 million people in Canada lived in multi-generational homes, up 40% since 2001.
  • Working seniors are on the rise. The labour market participation rate of seniors more than doubled since 2000, from 6.0% to 14% in 2016.
  • Canada’s aging population affects family finances. An estimated $750 billion is expected to be transferred to Canadians aged 50 to 75 over the next decade.


This bilingual resource will be updated periodically as new data emerges. Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to find out about updates, as well as other news about publications, projects and initiatives from the Vanier Institute.

Download from the Vanier Institute of the Family.


Timeline: Fifty Years of Men, Work and Family in Canada

Over the past half century, fatherhood in Canada has undergone a significant evolution as men are increasingly sharing the “breadwinning” role, embracing caring responsibilities and integrating their responsibilities at home, at work and in their communities.

To explore these trends and the social, economic, cultural and environmental contexts that shape – and are shaped by – fatherhood and family relationships, we’ve created a 50-year timeline for Father’s Day 2016. Some highlights include:

  • More fathers are taking time off to care for their newborn children. More than one-quarter (27%) of all recent fathers in Canada reported in 2014 that they took (or intended to take) parental leave, up from only 3% in 2000.
  • The number of “stay-at-home” fathers is on the rise. Fathers accounted for approximately 11% of stay-at-home parents in 2014, up from only 1% in 1976.
  • Fathers of young children are absent from work more frequently for family-related reasons. Fathers of children under the age of 5 report missing an average 2.0 days of work in 2015 due to personal or family responsibilities, up from 1.2 days in 2009.
  • Fewer “lone fathers” are living in low income. In 2008, 7% of persons in lone-parent families headed by men lived in low income, down from 18% in 1976.
  • Fathers are increasingly helping with housework. Men who report performing household work devoted an average 184 minutes on these tasks in 2010, up from 171 minutes in 1998.
  • Fathers with flex are more satisfied with their work–life balance. More than eight in 10 (81%) full-time working fathers with children under age 18 who have a flexible schedule reported in 2012 being satisfied with their work–life balance, compared with 76% for those without a flexible schedule.
  • A growing number of children find it easier to talk to dad. In 2013–2014, 66% of 11-year-old girls and 75% of boys the same age say they find it easy to talk to their father about things that really bother them, up from 56% and 72%, respectively, two decades earlier.

This bilingual resource is a perpetual publication, and it will be updated periodically as new data emerges. Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to find out about updates, as well as other news about publications, projects and initiatives from the Vanier Institute.

Enjoy our new timeline, and happy Father’s Day to Canada’s 8.6 million dads!



Intergenerational Relations and Societal Change

Donna S. Lero, Ph.D.

In order to better understand families’ experiences and aspirations, it is crucial to understand the context in which families and their individual members live. Families are society’s most adaptable institution, constantly reacting to cultural, social and economic forces while affecting those same forces through their thoughts and behaviour. A number of recent and projected demographic and social trends are expected to have a significant impact on relationships between different generations, and exploring these shifting contexts can provide valuable insight into how intergenerational relations are affected and the potential impacts they have on social cohesion within families and in different generations – the question of intergenerational equity.

Population aging increases caregiving needs and lengthens intergenerational relationships

Population aging is a feature of most developed societies, a result of low fertility rates and people living longer. These two forces are transforming the traditional population pyramid to a more rectangular shape, shifting the size and proportion of older populations in society. In Canada, the proportion of the population 65 years and over increased from 8% in 1971 to 15.3% in 2013, and will be close to 25% in 2050.

Canada is not alone in this regard: across Europe, the proportion of the population aged 80 and over is expected to increase from 4% in 2010 to close to 10% by 2050, with substantially higher proportions in Germany, Italy, Japan and Korea. These trends have major implications for government planning in order to address pensions, health care costs, home and residential care, and supports for family caregivers.

Of increasing concern is the projection that there will be more individuals in their advanced years, with fewer children and grandchildren to provide care and assistance. Using census data, Janice Keefe and her colleagues have projected that the number of elderly people needing assistance in Canada will double in the next 30 years and that the decline in the availability of children will increase the need for home care and formal care, particularly over the longer term. Notably, it is projected that close to one in four elderly women may not have a surviving child by 2031.


Baby boomers continue to be the largest population group, still dominating the workforce, but starting to reach traditional retirement age. This group is experiencing caregiving pressures for aging parents and facing significant challenges managing paid work and care. In 2007, 37% of employed women and 29% of employed men aged 45–64 were caregivers, and those proportions are set to increase. At the same time, an estimated 28% of caregivers still have one or more children aged 18 or younger at home.

A recent trend in Canada and the U.S. is an increasing proportion of “older workers” typically defined as 55 years and older. Still healthy and capable, many people in their 60s and 70s are either prolonging careers or taking new jobs, often to supplement savings and/or limited pension income that will not last through their full retirement years. Canadian federal, provincial and territorial ministers responsible for seniors have identified the promotion of workplace supports for older workers, including supports to balance work and care, as one of two priority areas for the coming years.

In addition to being the largest population group, baby boomers have encountered different social circumstances growing up than their parents did. In the U.S. and Canada, they have been influenced by changes in women’s rights and roles, the sexual revolution, higher rates of divorce and enhanced educational opportunities. The longevity of the boomers’ relationships to their siblings and to aging parents has been described as “unprecedented” and their experiences as caregivers to their aging parents and their expectations and capacities as they age will significantly influence policy developments related to pensions, health care and long-term care.

Baby boomers have also had particularly close relationships with their children, and a poor economy that is limiting their young adult children’s opportunities and contributing to delayed family formation and careers is a source of significant concern. As a result, many boomers are concurrently providing substantial care to aging parents with chronic illnesses; have significant ties to siblings who, like themselves, may be carefully monitoring their retirement savings and possibly planning to extend their involvement in the labour force; and are providing support to their own children. Siblings, parents and grandparents today have a greater amount of time together than in previous generations. Vern Bengston has described this as a positive trend at the micro level, as it creates prolonged periods for shared experiences and opportunities for exchange that can strengthen intergenerational solidarity, despite a general societal trend at the macro level toward weakening norms governing intergenerational relations.

Greater diversity in family forms increases the role of “chosen families”

Baby boomers and their adult children have experienced higher rates of separation and divorce, remarriage, blended families and common-law arrangements than previous generations. An increase in same-sex unions and marriages is also evident. These complex and diverse relationships can result in what Karen Fingerman describes as “complex emotional, legal and financial demands” from former partners, estranged parents and relatives such as former in-laws or stepchildren. While complicating the nature of relationships and creating ambiguous expectations for exchange and support, Bengston suggests that the diverse network of relationships can provide a broader “latent kin network” (sometimes referred to as “fictive kin”) that can provide additional support when needed.

This latent kin network, which increasingly includes close friends who function “like family,” may substitute for or augment the support available from fewer or estranged family members, who may be geographically distant and/or have weaker ties over time. Interesting policy questions emerge when legal rights, financial benefits and other supports that were developed with heterosexual nuclear families in mind do not extend to the broader diversity and complexity of family forms evident in modern societies.

Longer transitions for youth into the labour market increases intergenerational dependency

A variety of cultural, social and economic conditions has been identified as factors that are contributing to a prolonged transition to adulthood in North America. Evidence of this lengthy and sometimes precarious transition to financial independence includes young adults’ extended involvement in education, a higher proportion living at home with their parents than previously, delayed and difficult entries into the job market and into long-term career paths, and delayed conjugal formation and child-bearing.

These processes have been occurring over a period of time, but are increasingly evident and in contrast to the experiences of previous generations at the same age. Young people’s experiences have led to longer periods of financial dependency on parents at the micro level and they are contributing to emerging concerns about intergenerational equity at a broader social level.

Given increasingly tight job prospects and the importance of education for good jobs in a knowledge-based economy, more young adults are turning to post-secondary education programs and the gaining of credentials as a way to increase employment opportunities and earnings. In Canada and other OECD countries, almost half of those in their early 20s are attending educational institutions full-time. Consequently, the tendency to stay in school longer, in conjunction with the extended time it takes to obtain employment in a related field, is increasing the average duration of the school-to-work transition.

Although post-secondary education adds human capital for individuals and for society, the benefits of a university degree may not be evident when graduates have difficulty finding suitable employment, as has been the case in recent years. Those with only a high school education face an even more difficult time finding a job that pays a living wage.

A complicating factor for many university graduates in Canada and the U.S. is the level of student debt. According to a 2013 Bank of Montreal student survey, current university students in Canada anticipate graduating with over $26,000 in debt. Student debt levels have escalated, particularly in the last decade, as tuition fees have increased – a function of limited government funding. Current student loan programs require that graduates begin repayment almost immediately after graduation. In addition to the anxiety accumulated debt produces for students, it is a substantial impediment to gaining financial independence from parents and it contributes to delaying marriage, child-bearing, home ownership and other purchases.

A serious concern, reflected in a growing number of current news reports, is the challenge young adults have finding jobs that afford a living wage. As described by James Côté and John Bynner, “Today’s young people face a labour market characterized by an increasing wage gap with older workers, earnings instability, more temporary and part-time jobs, lower-quality jobs with fewer benefits and more instability in employment.” These authors go on to state an additional concern: that “the decreased utility of youth labour in the context of this job competition has produced a growing age-based disparity of income (emphasis mine), contributing to increasingly prolonged and precarious transitions to financial independence.”

Statistics Canada has reported that, in 2011, 42.3% of young adults aged 20–29 lived in the parental home, either because they had never left it or because they returned home after living elsewhere. Most telling is the finding that, among 25- to 29-year-olds, one-quarter (25.2%) lived in their parental home in 2011, more than double the 11.3% observed in 1981.

The Pew Research Center’s report on the millennial generation in the U.S. (aged 18–33) has noted marked generational changes in the age of marriage. In 2013, just 26% of the millennial generation was married, compared to 48% of baby boomers (aged 50–64) when they were the same age. The current pattern of delayed child-bearing evident in Canada is a natural consequence. People are having fewer children (if any) and having them later. Beginning in 2005, fertility rates of mothers in their 30s has outnumbered the rates observed among mothers in their 20s. In 2011, 2.1% of all first-time mothers who gave birth that year were in their 40s, up from 0.5% in 1991.

Higher rates of immigration lead to greater diversity in intergenerational relationships

Rates of international immigration have increased dramatically in recent decades, spurred by greater opportunity to do so and economic needs. For many years, Canada has relied on international migration as a source of population and labour force growth. Resettlement policies and services aid in the transition of newcomers, promoting the learning of English or French, enhancing access to health and community services, and facilitating a smoother transition to the labour force.

Although newcomers may be more dependent on immediate family members for support, they experience wider discrepancies in expectations between generations in the family as a result of acculturation. For example, cultural and religious values may place particular emphasis on respect for elders and filial obligations to provide support, yet studies of immigrants from diverse backgrounds suggest that immigration and acculturation can place significant strains on newcomer families. This can particularly be the case when aging parents expect filial support and reject formal support and their adult children face economic challenges that require their involvement in precarious employment, multiple jobs or work that involves long hours or non-standard schedules.

In summary, multiple factors, including population aging, low fertility rates, increasing diversity in family forms, delayed transitions to financial independence and high rates of international immigration, affect the nature of intergenerational relations at both the micro and macro levels. As the population in Canada continues to age, generations will share relationships for longer periods of time. Longer intergenerational relationships mean that families (whether related by blood or marriage or “chosen” circles of kin) will have a greater amount of time in which members can provide support and care for each other, regardless of the context in which they live. Challenges include ensuring that supports are available that sustain caring relationships over time, especially in more complex circumstances and in a context of limited and fragmented supports for caregiving.


Dr. Donna S. Lero is a Professor in the Department of Family Relations and is the Jarislowsky Chair in Families and Work at the University of Guelph. She leads a program of research on public policies, workplace practices and community supports in the Centre for Families, Work and Well-Being, which she co-founded.


This article is an edited excerpt from Intergenerational Relations and Social Cohesion, a background paper prepared for the Regional Expert Group Panel Meeting marking the 20th anniversary of the International Year of the Family and first published in Transition magazine.

Infographic: Family Diversity in Canada 2016

International Day of Families is approaching on May 15, a special day to recognize the importance of family to communities across the globe. Parents, children, grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins and the friends and neighbours we care for (and who care for us) all make unique and valuable contributions to our lives, our workplaces and our communities.

As we reflect on Canada’s 9.9 million families, one thing that’s clear is that there’s no such thing as a cookie-cutter family. Families are as diverse and unique as the people who comprise them, and they are all an essential part of Canada’s family landscape.

For this year’s International Day of Families, we’ve created an infographic providing a “snapshot” of modern families in Canada that highlights some of the many ways families are diverse:

  • 67% of families in Canada are married-couple families, 17% are living common-law, and 16% are lone-parent families – diverse family structures that continuously evolve
  • 464,000 stepfamilies live across the country, accounting for 13% of couples with children
  • 363,000 households contain three or more generations, and there are also approximately 53,000 “skip-generation” homes (children and grandparents with no middle generation present)
  • 1.4 million people in Canada report having an Aboriginal identity (61% First Nations, 32% Métis, 4.2% Inuit, 1.9% other Aboriginal identity, 0.8% more than one Aboriginal identity)
  • 360,000 couples in Canada are mixed unions,* accounting for 4.6% of all married and common-law couples
  • 65,000 same-sex couples were counted in the 2011 Census, 9.4% of whom are raising children
  • 68,000 people in Canada are in the CAF Regular Forces, half of whom have children under 18

As His Excellency The Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, expressed at the Families in Canada Conference 2015, “Families, no matter their background or their makeup, bring new and special patterns to our diverse Canadian tapestry.” Join us as we recognize and celebrate family diversity, from coast to coast to coast.


* Statistics Canada defines a mixed union as “a couple in which one spouse or partner belongs to a visible minority group and the other does not, as well as a couple in which the two spouses or partners belong to different visible minority groups.”

Timeline: Fifty Years of Women, Work and Family in Canada

While mothers in Canada have always played a central role in family life, there’s no question that the social, economic, cultural and environmental contexts that shape – and are shaped by – motherhood have evolved over time.

A growing share of mothers are managing paid work and family responsibilities compared with previous generations, and the dynamic relationships between women, work and family continue to evolve. To explore these relationships through a broader lens, we’ve created a 50-year timeline for Mother’s Day 2016 that explores some of the long-term trends over the past half century, including:

  • An increase in women’s participation in the paid labour force, which has grown from 40% in 1968 to 82% in 2014 for those aged 25 to 54
  • A growing share of “breadwinning” moms among single-earner couple families, which has steadily increased from 4% of earners in these families in 1976 to 21% in 2014
  • A significant drop in the low-income rate among single mothers, which has fallen from 54% in 1976 to 21% in 2008
  • A declining fertility rate, which stood at 3.94 women per children in 1959 during the peak of the baby boom, but has since dropped to 1.61 in 2011
  • A continually rising average age of first-time mothers, up from 24.3 years of age in 1974 to 28.5 in 2011
  • A greater amount of time mothers are spending with family, with women reporting 421 minutes (7 hours) per day with family in 2010, up from 403 minutes (6.7 hours) in 1986

This bilingual resource is a perpetual publication, and it will be updated periodically as new data emerges. Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to find out about updates, as well as other news about publications, projects and initiatives from the Vanier Institute.

Enjoy our new timeline, and happy Mother’s Day to Canada’s 9.8 million moms!


It’s Time to Care for Our (Young) Carers

Andrea Breen, Ph.D.

When I type the words “Millennials are” into Google, four options pop up: “Millennials are lazy,” “Millennials are useless,” “Millennials are entitled” and “Millennials are narcissistic.” What doesn’t pop up is a search term to suggest the reality that we increasingly rely on our young people to provide unpaid care for adults in our families and communities. Data from Statistics Canada’s 2012 General Social Survey indicate that 1.9 million Canadians between 15 and 29 (27% of those in this age group) are “young carers”: young people who provide unpaid care for others for reasons of illness, disability, addiction or injury.

The statistics are surprising: the amount of time young people aged 15–24 spend caring for others is similar to that of their counterparts in the 45- to 54-year-old age range.1 Like middle-aged adults, most young carers provide care for just a few hours or less per week, but approximately 5% of young carers spend more than 30 hours per week caring for others. Young carers most typically look after their grandparents (40%), parents (27%) friends and neighbours (14%) and siblings or extended family members (11%). Nearly one in five (19%) of young carers report caring for three or more people.2

Canada is behind the US, UK, Australia and Sub-Saharan Africa in public awareness and policy development related to young carers.3, 4 Many Canadians aren’t familiar with the term young carers; as such, their struggles and needs remain largely invisible. At the federal level, supports that have been developed for carers, such as the caregiver credit and Compassionate Care Benefit, are intended for working adults.5 While the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal prohibits family status as grounds for discrimination, we do not yet have precedent for young carers, nor do we have explicit policies for supporting and accommodating young carers in our schools and post-secondary institutions.

Most of what is known about young carers in Canada comes from the recent work of a few researchers and a small handful of forward-thinking community organizations. There are important questions that we have only begun to ask about caregiving and its impacts on young Canadians’ psychological and social development: How might caregiving responsibilities shape or constrain identity development, relationships, educational opportunities, career development, leisure pursuits and personal and financial trajectories? How does caregiving impact on young carers’ mental health and well-being? What kinds of policies and practices need to be in place in our schools, communities, workplaces and post-secondary institutions to support young carers?

Early research suggests that caregiving can be beneficial when caregivers are supported: providing care for others can enhance social and emotional development, build a sense of competence and self-efficacy, and nurture empathy and compassion.6 I’ve seen some of the benefits reflected in my university students who are young carers. I’ve had several students who have pursued careers in gerontology because they provide care for an ailing grandparent, students who are passionate about working with children who have special needs because of their experiences caring for a sibling and students who are dedicating their professional lives to careers in mental health because they care for a parent who struggles with mental illness. In cases such as these, early experiences with caregiving can shape young carers’ identities in positive ways and orient them to a future that is focused on making meaningful contributions to others’ lives.

But caregiving also takes a toll. Young carers are especially vulnerable to social isolation, mental health challenges and lower educational attainment.7 For the estimated 47% of young carers who attend school,8 chronic lateness, absenteeism, insufficient time for assignments, anxiety and problems focusing can make balancing school and caregiving a challenge.9 One teenager I know in Nunavut recently left school to care for her dying grandmother, a situation that is much more common than most of us realize. Nationwide, an estimated 7% of young carers leave school early10 and the situation may be especially urgent in Northern Canada; in 2006 an estimated 46% of youth in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut provided some form of unpaid care to others.11 I wonder how many teachers and administrators are aware of this reality in their students’ lives?

Supporting young carers is a complex undertaking. Young carers are a diverse group, with varied experiences and needs. There are subgroups of young carers who are likely to be especially vulnerable, including those who devote significant time to caregiving, those with few social supports as well as young carers from marginalized communities who may face intersecting vulnerabilities to isolation and invisibility. We also need to be concerned about our youngest caregivers – Statistics Canada collects data on caregivers over the age of 15 only, which means that we know almost nothing about children and young adolescents who provide care for others.

Several years ago, I worked with a 12-year-old boy who had been suspended from school for severe behaviour problems. Over time, we learned that this boy and his slightly older brother were providing care for their mother, who struggled with depression and alcoholism. The boys took care of household tasks, shopping and preparing meals, and were doing their best to find help for their mother. These boys faced the same struggles as many adult carers – exhaustion, constant worry for someone they love, a sense of helplessness in the face of illness, limited time for other activities, mental health issues and deepening poverty and isolation. But they were especially vulnerable because they were children. They lived in fear that their situation would be discovered and they would be removed from their home. They were worried for themselves and also for their mother, who they thought wouldn’t be able to survive without them.

This family’s situation is an example of the shortcomings of intervention approaches and funding models that target individuals – we could “treat” the boy’s behavioural issues in isolation, but until someone provided real, meaningful help for his family, the boy’s risks for mental health challenges, poor physical health, school failure, criminality and other potentially devastating outcomes would likely only increase over time. How many youth are there like this in our communities? How many children look after their parents and guardians who are too ill, injured or disabled to take care of themselves? So far, we don’t have the answers – because we haven’t really been looking.

I had first heard the term “young carers” in a CBC Ontario Today interview with Vanier Institute CEO Nora Spinks and I was eager to know where she thinks those of us who are researchers should be focusing our attention. Her answer? One important area of focus is caregivers who are under the age of 10. She is concerned that digital technologies may be increasing possibilities for really young caregivers to be hidden from society; she points out that it can be relatively easy to conceal when families are falling apart because so many of our interactions now occur online. We can bank online and order food online – as long as they have access to a credit card, no one sees that it is a 9-year-old who is taking care of these tasks.

Demographic trends including an aging population, smaller families, more skip-generation parenting and geographical dispersion mean that the number of young carers in Canada is rising.12, 13 We need to focus attention on young carers in order to move people into awareness and action. There is a great deal of work to be done to develop research, programs and policies that can help us recognize and nurture the caregivers we depend on. Most importantly, we all need to look more closely at the children, youth and young adults in our schools and communities to recognize the hidden challenges they face and the remarkable contributions that so many of them are making.


Andrea Breen is an Assistant Professor of Family Relations and Human Development at the University of Guelph. Her research focuses on storytelling and implications for well-being, resilience and social change; and the use of technology to enhance well-being in children, youth and families. Dr. Breen has extensive experience developing innovative educational programs in school, mental health and detention settings and she served as Chief Scientist for the parenting app, kidü. Dr. Breen completed her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology and Education at OISE/UT. She also holds a master’s degree in Risk and Prevention from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a Bachelor of Education degree from McGill University.



Action Canada Task Force (2013), Who Cares About (Young) Carers? Raising Awareness for an Invisible Population.

Battams, Nathan (2013), “Young caregivers in Canada,” Fascinating Families 59, The Vanier Institute of the Family.

Bleakney, Amanda (2014), Young Canadians Providing Care, Statistics Canada.

Charles, Grant, and Tim Stainton and Sheila Marshall (2012), Young Carers in Canada: The Hidden Costs and Benefits of Young Caregiving, The Vanier Institute of the Family.

Stamatopoulos, Vivian (2015a), “Supporting young carers: A qualitative review of young carer services in Canada,” International Journal of Adolescence and Youth. 

Ibid. (2015b), “One million and counting: the hidden army of young carers in Canada,” Journal of Youth Studies.



1 Battams (2013).

2 Bleakney (2014).

3 Becker (2007).

4 Stamatopolous (2015a).

5 Ibid.

6 Charles, Stainton, and Marshall (2002).

7 Charles et al. (2012).

8 Bleakney (2014).

9 Charles et al. (2012).

10 Bleakney (2014).

11 Stamatopoulos (2015b).

12 Stamatapoulos (2015a).

13 Stamatapoulos (2015b).


Further Reading

Programs and Networks:

Cowichan Family Caregivers Support Society Young Carers’ Network

Hospice Toronto Young Carers Program

Powerhouse Project: Young Carers Initiative

Young Carers Project of Waterloo Region


The Current State of Military Family Research

Heidi Cramm, Deborah Norris, Linna Tam-Seto, Maya Eichler, and Kimberley Smith-Evans

Since the 1990s, the nature, frequency, and intensity of military operations have shifted, and these shifts have, in turn, had an impact on the families of Canada’s military personnel. Operational tempo has increased and has been almost continuous, and the roles of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel1 have changed from “peacekeepers to peacemakers to warriors.” In 2013, the Office of the Ombudsman, National Defence and Canadian Forces released its seminal report on military family health and well-being, On the Homefront: Assessing the Well-being of Canada’s Military Families in the New Millennium. This report brought into view the contexts, meanings, and consequences associated with recent changes in CAF military operations for members, Veterans, and families.

The Ombudsman’s report noted that mobility, separation, and risk have an impact on most serving military members and their families for much of their military careers.2 Canadian military families relocate three to four times more often than their civilian counterparts, with little input as to where, when, or for how long, disrupting continuity of access to health care services. Frequent relocations also affect children’s participation in school, academic progress, and access to educational accommodations for those with identified disabilities or learning exceptionalities.3 Relocations also disrupt non-military family members’ employment opportunities and the family’s capacity to care for vulnerable family members such as aging parents. Protracted separations from family as a result of training or deployment are not uncommon, and the risk that military personnel face during intensive training and deployment speak to the possibility of permanent injury, illness, or death.4 Although Canadian military families value and take pride in their family member’s military service, mobility and separation, along with the “relentless upheaval of military life,”5 can be highly disruptive to families. Civilian family members interviewed for the report shared their concern that their children were “paying a price for their parent’s service to the nation.”6

“…mobility, separation, and risk have an impact on most serving military members and their families for much of their military careers.”

Although Canadian military family research has been ongoing for approximately 25 years, efforts to develop this body of research were, until recently, hampered by the lack of funding for civilian research and the infrastructure to support collaboration. This has recently changed via the networks established through the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research. At present, research involving present-day military families focuses overwhelmingly on the US experience. In recent years, this literature has paid greater attention to understanding how military life affects families and how resilience can be enhanced within military families.7 Resilience is defined as “positive adaptation, or the ability to maintain or regain mental health, despite experiencing adversity.”8

“In recent years, [military family research] has paid greater attention to understanding how military life affects families and how resilience can be enhanced within military families.”

On the whole, the research examining military families has tended to take a risk or problem perspective.9 Very little research has explored the factors, or combination of factors, that support successful and ongoing resilience within military family life.10 Little is known about the mechanisms that foster resilience. Instead, emphasis has been placed on the effects of deployment across mental health, social, academic, and behavioural domains.11–14 For example, the mental health of both the deployed and the at-home parent can affect children at different times. The Children on the Homefront study in the United States, which explored the impact of military operations on children’s well-being, described how the mental health of the non-deployed parent had a significant impact on the number of emotional, social, and academic challenges children experience both during deployment and during the reintegration of the deployed parent.15 A recent report that reviewed the Canadian and international research on the impact of operational stress injury (OSI) on family health and well-being16 suggested that it has a negative impact on family dynamics and the health and well-being of family members. Furthermore, it appears that family members experience more emotional, psychological, behavioural, social, and academic problems and are also more vulnerable to experiences of neglect or abuse than other families.17

“…the mental health of both the deployed and the at-home parent can affect children at different times.”

The extent to which these research findings resonate with the Canadian experience is unclear. Canadian military families, especially those who are not actively serving, express “concern that relatively little is known on the subject from a Canadian context.”18 Although many of the findings may be generalizable to Canada, critical differences require more extensive and intensive knowledge of the unique needs of Canadian military children, spouses, and families.19 For instance, in Canada, unlike in the United States, military families are dependent on the civilian health care system and need to repeatedly navigate access to a family doctor as well as any required specialists, often across provincial jurisdictions in which systems and eligibility for services may differ. Rather than enjoying continuity of care, members of military families find themselves on new wait lists with each move, with limited ability to engage in routine health maintenance with a regular health provider. Many Canadian military families travel back to their physician from their previous posting because they have been unsuccessful in securing one in their current residence. If members of the family have medical needs or disabilities, navigating new health care systems can be onerous and frustrating, with eligibility and reimbursement policies causing considerable stress. This can be complicated if civilian health care providers have “limited understanding of the particularities of military life, which can also impact care quality and continuity.”20

The challenges military families face in navigating the health system can be echoed in the school systems. Twenty years ago, 80% of CAF families lived on base and attended a Department of National Defence school there. Not only does that school system no longer exist, 85% of CAF families now live off base and attend community schools21 in which civilian personnel have little awareness of military life stressors and their impact on spouses and children. Moreover, unlike the United States or the United Kingdom, Canada has no federal government department that provides financial resources to provincial school districts to tailor programming for children in military families transitioning into their schools, experiencing parental deployment, or living with a parent with an OSI.22, 23 If a student has a disability and requires educational accommodations in school, the assessment and resource allotment process begins anew with each school transition, which creates significant stressors for families.24

“…it is critical that unique health issues and needs be carefully defined and understood in a Canadian context.”

Although programming and services have been developed in Canada to target families, including crisis support, peer support, psychoeducation, and counselling services through organizations such as the Military Family Resource Centres (MFRCs), offerings vary by location and centre. Canada has also demonstrated leadership in developing family-centred programs and services such as “The Mind’s the Matter” webinar series for adolescents.25 The extent to which most of these programs and services have been based on evidence or rigorously evaluated for efficacy is unclear, however.

To ensure that the spouses and partners of military members and the almost 64,100 Canadian children growing up in military families enjoy the same levels of health as their civilian counterparts, it is critical that unique health issues and needs be carefully defined and understood in a Canadian context. Although clarifying these needs is critical, research must also explore the knowledge and skills that educators, health care practitioners, and community partners require to effectively engage and support military families and ultimately create the foundation for evidence-informed interventions and programming.



Heidi Cramm, School of Rehabilitation Therapy, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON

Deborah Norris, Department of Family Studies and Gerontology, Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax, NS

Linna Tam-Seto, School of Rehabilitation Therapy, Queen’s University, Kingston, ON

Maya Eichler, Department of Political and Canadian Studies, Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax, NS

Kimberley Smith-Evans, Department of Family Studies and Gerontology, Mount Saint Vincent University, Halifax, NS


This article is an excerpt from “Making Military Families in Canada a Research Priority,” which includes a discussion about future research priorities. The original article, published online in the Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health in November 2015 (Volume 1 No. 2), can be accessed on the journal’s website.



  1. Ombudsman Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces. On the Homefront: Assessing the Well-being of Canada’s Military Families in the New Millennium. Ottawa: Office of the Ombudsman, National Defence and Canadian Forces, 2013.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Bradshaw CP, Sudhinaraset M, Mmari K, et al. “School Transitions Among Military Adolescents: A Qualitative Study of Stress and Coping.” School Psych Rev. 2010;39(1):84–105.
  4. Ombudsman Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Saltzman WR, Lester P, Beardslee WR, et al. “Mechanisms of Risk and Resilience in Military Families: Theoretical and Empirical Basis of a Family-Focused Resilience Enhancement Program.” Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev. 2011;14(3):213–30.
  8. Herrman H, Stewart DE, Diaz-Granados N, et al. “What Is Resilience?” Can J Psychiatry. 2011;56(5):258–65. Medline: 21586191
  9. Easterbrooks MA, Ginsburg K, Lerner RM. “Resilience Among Military Youth.” Future Child. 2013;23(2):99–120. Medline: 25518694
  10. Palmer C. “A Theory of Risk and Resilience Factors in Military Families.” Mil Psychol. 2008;20(3):205–17.
  11. Aronson KR, Perkins DF. “Challenges Faced by Military Families: Perceptions of United States Marine Corps School Liaisons.” J Child Fam Stud. 2013;22(4):516–25.
  12. Cederbaum JA, Gilreath TD, Benbenishty R, et al. “Well-Being and Suicidal Ideation of Secondary School Students from Military Families.” J Adolesc Health. 2014;54(6):672–7. Medline: 24257031
  13. Cozza SJ. “Children of Military Service Members: Raising National Awareness of the Family Health Consequences of Combat Deployment.” Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011;165(11):1044–6. Medline: 21727261
  14. Chandra A, Lara-Cinisomo S, Jaycox LH, et al. “Children on the Homefront: The Experience of Children from Military Families.” Pediatrics. 2010;125(1):16–25. Medline: 19969612
  15. Ibid.
  16. . “Operational Stress Injury: The Impact on Family Mental Health and Well-being. A Report to Veterans Affairs Canada.” 2015.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ombudsman Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces.
  19. . “Impacts of Military Life on Families: Results from the Perstempo Survey of Canadian Forces Spouses.” Ottawa: Defence R&D Canada, 2009.
  20. Ombudsman Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces.
  21. . Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services; n.d. [cited 2015 Sep 10]. “Debunking Myths: The Canadian Forces Family Lifestyle.”
  22. Ombudsman Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces.
  23. National Military Family Association. Department of Defense Support to Civilian Schools Educating Military Children. Alexandria (VA): The Association, 2006.
  24. Ombudsman Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces.
  25. Military Family Support Services. Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services; n.d. [cited 2015 Sep 10]. “The Mind’s the Matter: Understanding a Family Member’s OSI.”


Timeline: 50 Years of Families in Canada

Today’s society and today’s families would have been difficult to imagine, let alone understand, a half-century ago.

Families and family life have become increasingly diverse and complex, but families have always been the cornerstone of our society, the engine of our economy and at the centre of our hearts.

Learn about how families and family experiences in Canada have changed over the past 50 years with our new timeline!