Ana Fostik, PhD, Jennifer Kaddatz and Nora Spinks
April 21, 2020
A family is a system of relationships with actions and reactions that occur over time. Family well-being hinges on the capacity of all members of a family to love, care and support one another in times of hardship as well as in times of ease. Like any and all systems, the strengths and tensions in those family relationships are magnified, amplified and intensified when put under stress.
While the COVID-19 pandemic marks one of the most potentially challenging times in Canada’s history, couples in this country seem to be faring relatively well to date. Data collected over four weeks during the pandemic[i] reveal that most people in committed relationships have strengths in those relationships and that they are leaning on each other and are having positive actions/reactions as they manage social distancing together.
Most couples in Canada are supporting each other, having meaningful conversations and arguing about the same amount as before home isolation.
Eight in 10 adults in couples say they have been supporting one another well
According to data collected April 9–12, 2020, 8 in 10 people aged 18 or older (80%) who are married or living common-law agree that they and their spouse are supporting one another more since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. These shares are about the same for those with children or youth at home (77%) as for those without children under 18 years of age in the household (82%).
Adults have been supporting one another more than before regardless of how the pandemic has affected their labour market situation: 82% of those whose job situation deteriorated (lost their job temporarily or permanently, or lost income or salary) and 81% of those whose job situation was not affected report more support from their partners.
Middle-aged people were less likely than older people to agree that they and their partner are supportive of one another, with 75% of 35- to 54-year-olds agreeing with the statement, compared with 84% of those aged 55 and older.
Interestingly, men agree in larger numbers than women (84% and 77%, respectively) that they have a supportive relationship with their partner.
More than 4 in 10 adults are having more meaningful conversations with their significant other
Clear communication is a key component of family well-being. More than 4 in 10 (43%) of adults in committed relationships in Canada report that they have been having more meaningful conversations since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to April 9–12 data. This is especially true among those whose labour market situation deteriorated since the start of the pandemic: 51% of them report having more meaningful conversations with their partners, compared with 36% of those whose job and/or income was not impacted by the pandemic. Just 10% of adults disagree that they are having more meaningful talks with their spouse.
Men are slightly more likely than women to agree that they have been having more meaningful conversations with their spouse or partner since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, at 45% versus 40%. Younger people, too, report this in higher numbers (52% of 18- to 34-year-olds) than older adults (40% of 35- to 54-year-olds and 41% of those 55 and older).
People who were married or common-law and had children or youth in the house were about as likely as those without kids to agree that they are having more meaningful conversations with their partner since the start of the crisis, at 44% and 42%, respectively.
Four in 10 adults feel closer to their spouse
Perhaps because they are supporting one another well and having meaningful conversations, nearly 4 in 10 adults in committed relationships (41%) agree that they feel closer to their spouse or partner since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. This share is even higher among Canadians who lost their job or who lost income or salary due to the pandemic: 48% of them report increased closeness in their relationship, compared with 34% among those whose job was not impacted by the pandemic.
The share of those feeling closer to their spouse is about the same for men (44%) as for women (38%) and is also relatively stable by age group and by whether or not children were living in the home. As of April 9–12, 43% of people in married or common-law relationships with kids under 18 years of age in the house agree they feel closer to their spouse since the start of the pandemic.
By region, the percentage agreeing that they now feel closer to their spouse is highest in Ontario and B.C., at 48% and 43%, respectively, and lowest in the Prairies, at 30%.
Ontario is the only province currently showing an increase in the share of adults feeling closer to their spouse now as compared with earlier in the pandemic, the proportion having risen from 39% in the March 10–13 survey to 48% in the April 9–12 survey.
Fewer than 2 in 10 adults in committed relationships have been arguing more
Only 18% of those who are married or living common-law reported that they have been arguing more with their spouse or partner since the start of the pandemic. In fact, approximately 54% disagree that they are arguing more and 28% neither agree nor disagree with that statement.
However, young adults in committed relationships – either with someone their own age or someone older – were more likely to report that they are arguing more with their partner than were those in older age groups. Nearly 3 in 10 (28%) of 18- to 34-year-olds say that they have been arguing more with their spouse or partner since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, compared with 19% of those aged 35- to 54-year-olds and only 12% of those aged 55 and older.
Canadians who experienced job or income loss due to the pandemic tend to argue more than before in greater proportions than those whose job remained unchanged: 26% and 16% report increased arguing.
Arguing with a partner is often linked to stress and other well-being indicators and, according to the data from April 9–12, about 6 in 10 younger women, aged 18–34, report “very often” or “often” feeling anxious or nervous (64%), irritable (64%) or sad (59%) and 45% report difficulty sleeping. These shares were significantly higher than for their male counterparts and were also higher than for women over the age of 55, among whom about 5 in 10 are “very often” or “often” experiencing anxiety or nervousness (46%) or sadness (50%), fewer than 3 in 10 (28%) are feeling irritable and 36% are having difficulty sleeping.
Ana Fostik, PhD, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada
Jennifer Kaddatz, Vanier Institute on secondment from Statistics Canada
Nora Spinks is CEO of the Vanier Institute of the Family.
- The survey, conducted March 10–13, March 27–29, April 3–5 and April 9–12, included approximately 1,500 individuals aged 18 and older, interviewed using computer-assisted web-interviewing technology in a web-based survey. The March 27–29, April 3–5 and April 9–12 samples also included booster samples of approximately 500 immigrants. Using data from the 2016 Census, results were weighted according to gender, age, mother tongue, region, education level and presence of children in the household in order to ensure a representative sample of the population. No margin of error can be associated with a non-probability sample (web panel in this case). However, for comparative purposes, a probability sample of 1,512 respondents would have a margin of error of ±2.52%, 19 times out of 20.