Families Count 2024: new resource on family structure now available

Families Count 2024 is now available

Modern Family Finances: Students in Canada (infographic)

Post-secondary education is a family investment; regardless of who covers the costs, decisions surrounding higher education can have a significant impact on the lives of young adults and their families. A degree or diploma can open doors to employment and the possibility of higher earnings; however, higher education involves costs that must be managed, and families often play an important role in helping students manage their finances.

Using new survey information and data from Statistics Canada, the Vanier Institute has updated our infographic on students and family finances in Canada.

Highlights include:

  • University tuition fees for Canadian undergraduate students were approximately $6,800 for the 2018–2019 academic year, with an additional $920 in additional compulsory fees.
  • Six in 10 surveyed students reported that parents, family or spouses helped fund their education.
  • Among surveyed parents who are funding their child(ren)’s education, 6 in 10 say that they use day-to-day income to provide this funding.
  • Six in 10 surveyed first-year university students in Canada said they have received a financial award from their university, 71% of whom said they would not have been able to attend university without this financial assistance.
  • One in three surveyed bachelor graduates who graduated with student debt reported that they paid off their student loans within three years after graduating.

Research Recap: School Experiences of Children in Military Families

Emily Beckett

There are more than 64,000 children growing up in military families in Canada.1 Many of these children experience high mobility, as studies show that military families move three to four times more often than their civilian counterparts.2 While most military families are highly adaptive and resilient during relocations, a growing body of research has found that these frequent moves can have an impact on family well-being.3

Nearly three in 10 surveyed military spouses (27%) report they have been relocated at least four times due to military postings.4

While frequent moves can affect multiple aspects of family life, some research suggests that the greatest disruption on youth is related to school and school-related activities.5 Parents in military families are aware of these disruptions, with more than half (54%) of surveyed military spouses agreeing that “military children are at a disadvantage because civilian public schools do not understand military life.”6 However, research also shows that a child’s school environment can facilitate the transition and have a positive impact on the well-being of youth in military families.

In recent review of available literature, School Participation and Children in Military Families: A Scoping Review, Heidi Cramm, PhD, and Linna Tam-Seto, PhD(C), explored existing research on how transition affects the well-being of children and youth in military families with regard to school participation. Through an examination of 112 academic articles, they found that experiences common in military families, such as separation from a deployed parent, relocation, parental deployment in dangerous conflict situations and changes to family dynamics during and after deployments, can all shape the quality and quantity of children’s participation in school-related activities. While the vast majority of the articles in the literature review are based on U.S. data, military families in Canada seem to share many of the same experiences and concerns, as reflected in data from the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Community Needs Assessment: 2016 Overall Results report.7

Resettling into a new community takes time

While starting at a new school doesn’t necessarily mean a child from a military family will experience academic difficulties, research in the literature review suggested that it takes students approximately four to six months to academically re-establish themselves each time they move. Though this period is temporary, these disruptions can have a long-term effect on opportunities later in life, specifically in regard to a child’s willingness to take risks or pursue challenges.

Based on the predominantly American research, Cramm and Tam-Seto noted that difficulties in transition among students were found to be associated with the duration of deployments (total number of months that the child’s parents are away on deployment), the mental health of the non-deployed parent and decreasing resiliency. Research also acknowledges the potentially difficult period of reintegration of a military member into family structures and routines after their deployment. Given that there is some evidence that the accumulation of months deployed is associated with these types of negative effects, it will be critical to determine what the experience is for military families in Canada.

Academic experiences and access to supports can be impacted by military life

Cramm and Tam-Seto found that students in the research, who were primarily from U.S. military families, can experience negative impacts on their academic performance (e.g., academic gaps and redundancies) when they move across jurisdictional boundaries: factors such as standards, credit requirements and the age of kindergarten can change from region to region. They also found that stress at home during deployment and reintegration can often affect in-school behaviour and class dynamics, as these students may act out emotionally and experience difficulties with concentration, anxiety and conflicts with peers. Though the survey doesn’t specify whether the problems exhibited in the children of the respondents to the CAF Community Needs Assessment were associated solely with mobility, 13% of respondents reported that their child exhibited emotional or behavioural problems at school in the past year. Further research is needed to provide a greater understanding and focus on military families in Canada.

In 2016, more than 1 in 7 surveyed CAF members (13%) reported that their child exhibited emotional or behavioural problems at school in the past year.

Studies found an association between behavioural and emotional adjustment and academic performance (e.g., conduct, attendance, attitudes toward school and approaches to learning). The difficulties associated with transitioning to a new school can be compounded when a student requires access to special education resources.8 Many of the 8.2% of surveyed CAF families who report having children with special needs9 require access to resources and supports, and the process of accessing them can be disrupted with every move.

Like any family with a member with special needs, many military parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can face difficulties navigating health care and education systems, not only to acquire appropriate resources but to secure assessments and diagnoses as well.10 Obtaining a diagnosis can be difficult as families can spend months or even years on a wait-list, which can result in military families relocating before they receive care or services.

Many special education resources cannot be accessed without a diagnosis, and Cramm and Tam-Seto found that schools may delay providing resources based on the assumption that a student’s academic struggles are related solely to military life or a temporary reaction to a deployed parent. Alternatively, special education resources are occasionally provided rather than taking the larger step of addressing gaps in education due to relocation. Many U.S. school staff report that they feel unable to appropriately identify students in military families for clinical referrals.

Building community in the face of high mobility

Research shows that in the context of high mobility, military students can experience difficulties initiating and maintaining meaningful personal relationships and building social circles with children their age. Many civilian peers may not understand or be able to empathize with parental deployment or frequent moves, which can have an impact on relationships with military children. Social connections between military and civilian youth are common, since 85% of military families in Canada now live off-base in civilian communities, compared with only 20% in the mid-1990s.11

Cramm and Tam-Seto found that children of military families living in U.S. civilian communities are particularly vulnerable to feelings of isolation and loneliness – important measures, since the connection between strong social networks and well-being has been well established in research.12 Conversely, research shows that a sense of community belonging can be a factor in protecting mental health and enhancing resiliency.13

Participation in extracurricular activities can be affected by mobility among youth in military families. For example, opportunities for a child in a military family to sign up for a soccer team may have passed by the time they move, as the tryouts may have already been held and the team was set before the beginning of the academic year. Higher levels of sports teams or leadership programs may pass over military students to avoid complications that could arise if the student needs to relocate again.

The 2016 CAF Community Needs Assessment report found that among respondents who cited their child’s well-being as the most significant problem in the past year, nearly three in 10 (29%) reported requiring help with activities (e.g., bolstering fitness, stress relief, family bonding) to aid in the child’s well-being. Circumstances may not allow a parent to organize transportation to extracurricular activities or manage without the student’s support at home due to increased child care responsibilities during parental deployment, as 23% of all respondents reported experiencing issues with child care, such as quality, distance, expense and hours of availability.

Educational professionals have unique opportunities to facilitate transitions

Research suggests that teachers, counsellors and other educational professionals have unique opportunities to facilitate transitions for military youth. American research in the review suggested that the school environment can act as a protective factor during relocation, and that educators can support students in military families by strengthening the child’s resiliency and adaptive coping skills.

Due to the inherently disruptive nature of relocation and the potential loss of stability and routine in their lives, military families and students can be particularly reliant on school personnel and structure for social and emotional support. Among surveyed CAF parents who selected child well-being issues to be the most significant problem in the past year, more than one-third (34%) reported requiring emotional or social support. When families are able to get involved in their child’s schools, studies suggest it can enhance school engagement, academic success and their likelihood of graduating and pursuing post-secondary education.

However, Cramm and Tam-Seto also found that many U.S. educational staff report feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of their students’ needs and struggle to deal with military family-specific issues, such as repeated transitions, parental deployment, fear of death or injury of a deployed parent, and how to meet those needs and communicate effectively with military families.

While many of the studies and research explored and cited by Cramm and Tam-Seto were from abroad, the findings are important in better understanding military families in Canada, who share many of the same “military life stressors” as their American counterparts – in particular, high mobility, frequent periods of separation and risk.14 The research in this scoping review study suggests that schools and educational professionals with a high degree of military literacy (awareness of these stressors and military family experiences) can play a major role in facilitating transitions among youth. Canadian-specific research with school communities will be important in the coming years.

Resources and information facilitate support for military youth

Enhancing military literacy among educational professionals can play an important role in supporting military youth and their families, and many have expressed a desire for resources to help them with this goal. Resources such as School Counsellors Working with Military and Veteran Families, published in 2017 in collaboration with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association and the Canadian Military and Veteran Families Leadership Circle, can play an important role in creating and strengthening “military-literate” teams of school counsellors (and their colleagues) in schools across Canada by providing information about the military and Veteran lifestyle and sharing tailored resources.

Military and Veteran families are strong, diverse and resilient, and they make unique and valuable contributions to communities across the country. Many experience high mobility, which affects the well-being of military-connected children and youth, and, in turn, on the well-being and operational effectiveness of serving CAF members.15 Enhancing understanding of their experiences and the “military lifestyle” among educational professionals and others who study, serve and support families will be key to ensuring that communities and workplaces are inclusive environments in which these families can thrive.


Read the full study:

Heidi Cramm, PhD, and Linna Tam-Seto, PhD(C), “School Participation and Children in Military Families: A Scoping Review,” Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, & Early Intervention (March 1, 2018). Link: .



Emily Beckett is a professional writer living in Ottawa, Ontario.

Published on May 22, 2018

This article was reviewed by Col. (retd) Russ Mann, Special Advisor to the Vanier Institute of the Family and former Director of Military Family Services, as well as Heidi Cramm, PhD, and Linna Tam-Seto, PhD(C).


  1. Heidi Cramm et al., “The Current State of Military Family Research,” Transition (January 19, 2016).
  2. Kerry Sudom, “Quality of Life among Military Families: Results from the 2008/2009 Survey of Canadian Forces Spouses,” Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis, Chief Military Personnel (August 2010). Link: .
  3. Learn more with A Snapshot of Military and Veteran Families in Canada.
  4. Sudom, 2010.
  5. Pamela Arnold et al., “Needs of Military-Connected School Divisions in South-Eastern Virginia,” Old Dominion University Center for Educational Partnerships (September 2011), link:; Angela J. Huebner et al., “Parental Deployment and Youth in Military Families: Exploring Uncertainty and Ambiguous Loss,” Family Relations 56(2) (April 2007), link:; and Kristin N. Mmari et al., “Exploring the Role of Social Connectedness among Military Youth: Perceptions from Youth, Parents, and School Personnel,” Child and Youth Care Forum, 39(5) (October 2010), link:.
  6. Sanela Dursun and Kerry Sudom, “Impacts of Military Life on Families: Results from the Perstempo Survey of Canadian Forces Spouses,” Director General Military Personnel Research and Analysis, Chief Military Personnel (November 2009). Link:.
  7. Prairies Research Associates, CAF Community Needs Assessment: 2016 Overall Results (September 2017).
  8. Cramm, 2016.
  9. Heidi Cramm, “Health Care Experiences of Military Families of Children with Autism,” Transition (November 6, 2017).
  10. Cramm, 2017.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Maire Sinha, “Canadians’ Connections with Family and Friends,” Spotlight on Canadians: Results from the General Social Survey, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 89-652-X (page last updated November 30, 2015). Link:.
  13. Statistics Canada, “Community Belonging,” Healthy People, Healthy Places, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 82-229-X (January 2010). Link:.
  14. National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman, “On the Homefront: Assessing the Well-being of Canada’s Military Families in the New Millennium,” Special Report to the Minister of National Defence (November 2013). Link: https://bit.ly/2q6hi2a.
  15. National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman, 2013.


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

Family Finances: Investments in Education

Stacy Yanchuk Oleksy and Nathan Battams

(Updated November 20, 2017)

Decisions surrounding post-secondary education can have a significant impact on the lives of young adults and their families. A degree or diploma can open doors to employment and the possibility of higher earnings; however, higher education doesn’t come cheap! Tuition fees are increasing at a rate much higher than inflation, and they are compounded by a combination of other student expenses, such as housing, transportation and groceries. For many young Canadians, the short-term pain of post-secondary education costs can seem greater than the long-term gain of having a degree, even with student loan programs in place to support their academic pursuits. Initially – or when students find themselves short on the resources they need to enroll or stay in school – most turn to their families for support, and families adapt in diverse and creative ways to provide this support.

Post-secondary education is a family investment

While post-secondary education is widely seen as a valuable investment, student costs must be well managed to fully realize a return on investment. According to Statistics Canada, the average annual university tuition fee for undergraduate students is nearly $6,600 for the 2017–2018 academic year – that’s nearly three times as much as their parents would have paid in the 1970s. These costs, particularly when combined with other student expenses, add up quickly. The 2015 National Graduates Survey found that half of students in a bachelor’s program finish school indebted, owing an average $26,000 upon graduation. Slightly fewer (43%) college graduates finished school with debt, averaging $15,000 upon completion of their program.

Many students work part- or full-time to generate income to pay expenses, supplement student loans or augment family financial assistance. However, employment can compete with academic commitments, making them more difficult to fulfill. So, many students turn to their families for assistance to help finance their education. The nature and amount of assistance provided is shaped by the family’s financial situation and circumstance, as well as attitudes and beliefs surrounding who is ultimately responsible for post-secondary financing. Some families have the means to cover the entire cost and others provide partial support, while some cannot afford to provide any financial assistance. Each of these scenarios has an impact on the student’s finances, money management strategies and family relationships. By looking at the relationship between educational aspirations and family financial assistance, we can learn about the broader complexity of family finances and the diverse ways families provide support.

Without help from family, a student will likely have to take out student loans or live on easy-to-access student credit to cover the costs. This often happens even when families do provide financial assistance. Some post-secondary education costs can be offset if students work part-time during their studies, but this can be difficult – students have to balance the workload and the pressures of class while managing employment. Sometimes students may extend the duration of their program to leave time so they can work enough to pay for expenses.

Family financial support is common

Some families pay for the full cost of their child’s post-secondary education and related expenses. These costs can be covered by family income or through longer-term savings strategies. According to Statistics Canada, nearly seven in 10 (68%) Canadians aged 17 and older had savings set aside for college or university in 2013.

Registered Education Savings Plans (RESPs) were the most common savings approach for educational pursuits: in 2013, 77% of those with savings had an RESP – up from 69% in 2008. Parental education can shape expectations and saving behaviours for their children’s post-secondary education. Among children whose parents had a high school diploma or less, just over half (52%) had savings set aside, compared to 78% among children whose parents had a university degree. Not surprisingly, family income also plays a big role: in 2013, 44% of children living in households with an annual income of less than $30,000 had parents who were saving compared to 82% of children living in households earning $100,000 or more.

Many families aspire to cover the costs of a child’s post-secondary education, but they are not in a financial position to directly cover the full cost through income transfers or RESPs. Students can help reduce financial pressures through rigorous budgeting, but this can only go so far until it eventually threatens their food or housing security. Parents sometimes offer support by co-signing credit (e.g. loans, lines of credit, credit cards) to help their student cover the costs of schooling. However, this strategy is not without its risks, as the co-signer is responsible for the entire debt if the student fails to make his or her payments, even if the student files for bankruptcy.

Family financial support is complex

Family finances are complex, as are the diverse ways in which families adapt to provide support when access to money is limited. If a student is attending a post-secondary institution near the family home (or the home of another relative), support sometimes takes the form of free room and board throughout the school year, and the student may or may not be left responsible for other costs, such as books, tuition and possibly food. As life and school costs have increased over the past 30 years, so too has the proportion of young Canadians aged 20 to 24 living in the parental home – rising from 42% in 1981 to 59% in 2011.

Students sometimes receive non-financial forms of family support even if they aren’t living in the family home. Many students will do laundry or stick around for family meals when they visit their parents, allowing them to save money while nurturing their family relationships. Parents sometimes bring care packages, furnishings or simply money-saving advice when visiting their children during the school year.

Providing support can affect family finances and family relationships

Parents may be making significant financial sacrifices to help provide financial support – sometimes at the cost of their own aspirations. In a 2013 CIBC survey carried out by Leger Marketing, 33% of parents with children under age 25 reported that they had incurred additional debt as a result of financing their children’s education, and 36% said they would need to delay their own retirement as a result. While most are quite happy to provide this support, it can have an impact on their plans.

Tensions may arise between parents and students if the financial support being provided puts strain on the household. Direct financial support can put additional pressure on the parents’ finances that they might not have previously planned for, which can impact their ability to pursue their own aspirations (such as retiring). When a student continues living in (or returns to) the parental home to help reduce costs, the impact may also be felt in the relationships between those living in the parental home – particularly if this living arrangement had not been planned in advance. Finally, the student may feel a psychological impact, as he or she might feel the weight of expectations regarding academic performance resulting from guilt felt for continuing to rely on parental support.

When parents contribute financially to post-secondary expenses, it may create some pressure on students to meet parents’ expectations with regard to studying, grades and even attendance. Students are accountable not only to themselves and their education, but to their families. This scenario may create tension between family and student by not allowing the student to pursue his or her goals without a feeling of pure independence or to experience the peaks and valleys of adult decision-making.

Family support is priceless

Despite the pressures and financial tension that may arise from supporting the costs of education, families are highly resilient and adaptable problem-solvers, and all parents want their children to succeed. Communication and expectations between parents and students are crucial, as is providing the freedom to let the student learn from managing his or her new academic and financial responsibilities.

Families provide much more than just financial resources for post-secondary education. They provide emotional and social support for the student and encouragement to grow and learn from challenges and mistakes, and they cheer the student on as he or she starts the journey into a meaningful career. That’s something money can’t buy.


Stacy Yanchuk Oleksy is Director of Education and Community Awareness at the Credit Counselling Society. Nathan Battams is a writer and researcher at the Vanier Institute of the Family.



Statistics Canada, “Tuition Fees for Degree Programs, 2017/2018,” The Daily (September 7, 2016), accessed November 20, 2017, .

Nicole M. Fortin, “Rising Tuition and Supply Constraints: Explaining Canada–U.S. Differences in University Enrollment Rates,” Higher Education in Canada (2005), accessed July 21, 2015, .

Statistics Canada, National Graduates Survey, Student Debt from All Sources, by Province and Level of Study (Table 477-0068), accessed July 20, 2015, .

Statistics Canada, “Survey of Approached to Educational Planning, 2013,” The Daily (October 29, 2014), accessed November 20, 2014, .

Statistics Canada, “Living Arrangements of Young Adults Aged 20 to 29,” Census Analytical Products, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 98-312-X-2011003 (September 2012), accessed December 4, 2013, .

CIBC/Leger Marketing, Parents Delaying Retirement, Taking on Debt to Help Kids Pay for Education (August 2013), accessed November 20, 2014, .

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!