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Families Count 2024: new resource on family structure now available

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Families Count 2024 is now available

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Families Count 2024

Vanier Institute’s new resource explores three decades of change, continuity, and complexity among families in Canada. Released during the International Year of the Family’s 30th anniversary, Families Count 2024 provides statistical portraits of families in Canada, highlights trends over time, and offers insights on what it all means for families and family life.

Chapter 11 – Fathers represent a growing share of parents in one-parent families

One-parent families are more common than they were 30 years ago, but their growth has stabilized over the last decade. Also known as lone-parent, single-parent, and solo-parent families, their prevalence has fluctuated throughout Canada’s history due to shifting social, economic, and cultural factors.

In 2021, one-parent families represented 16.4% of census families.1 This is up from 1991 (13.0%), although the proportion has been stable since 2011 (16.3%).2 In 2001, part of the increase was the result of a change in the definition of the census family used for that census questionnaire (and all since).3

The highest proportion of one-parent families in 2021 was in Nunavut (33.1%) and the Northwest Territories (23.4%), while the lowest was in British Columbia (14.9%).4 That year, nearly one in five children under 15 across Canada (19%) lived in a one-parent family.5

Most parents in one-parent families are women (77.2% in 2021).4 Even so, the proportion that are fathers has increased in recent decades, from 17.3% in 19916 to 22.8% in 2021.4 This is similar across the country, except in Quebec (26.0%) and in the territories, where the proportion of fathers in one-parent families was 30.4% in Nunavut and 26.8% in Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

One-parent families are not new, but their circumstances have changed over time. In the early 20th century, the most common pathway to becoming a one-parent family was through the death of a parent. As mortality rates declined across generations, so did the prevalence of one-parent families.2

The creation of the Divorce Act, 1968, along with amendments to the Act in 1986, made it easier to divorce. Both contributed to spikes in the growth rate of one-parent families. Before these reforms—and when marriage rates peaked immediately following Canada’s baby boom—one-parent families represented a record-low 8.2% of census families in 1966.2 Women’s increasing labour force participation also strengthened mothers’ abilities to raise children on their own.

Why this matters

One-parent families have always been a part of Canada’s family landscape, as families transition out of being couple families following divorce or the death of a partner. Sometimes they result from a conscious choice to raise a child or children without another parent, although there is no Canadian data on this topic.

Poverty is a notable concern for one-parent families. They often face economic challenges due to only having one earner, along with the financial responsibilities of raising children. Many face difficulties accessing affordable housing and childcare.7 One-parent families with children aged 5 and under are approximately five times more likely than couples with children of the same age to experience poverty.8

To lessen financial hardship among one-parent families, federal and provincial governments have implemented social support programs such as income assistance, childcare subsidies, and tax benefits. Following this, poverty rates for individuals living in one-parent families led by a woman with a child aged five and under decreased from 62.7% in 2015 to 31.3% in 2020.8 Still, even in 2020, the poverty rate for parents in one-parent families with young children was much higher than for couple families.

Sources: Statistics Canada. (1996). Census families in private households by age groups of youngest never-married child at home (10), showing family structure (7), for Canada, provinces, territories and census metropolitan areas, 1991 and 1996 censuses (20% sample data).6
Statistics Canada. (2022, July 13). Census family structure including detailed information on stepfamilies, number of children, average number of children and age of youngest child: Canada, provinces and territories, census metropolitan areas and census agglomerations.4

Source: Statistics Canada. (2012, September). Fifty years of families in Canada: 1961 to 2011. 2011 Analytical products.2
Statistics Canada. (2022, July 13). Census family structure including detailed information on stepfamilies, number of children, average number of children and age of youngest child: Canada, provinces and territories, census metropolitan areas and census agglomerations.4


References
  1. Statistics Canada. (2022, July 13). Table 98-10-0123-01 Census family structure, presence of children and average number of persons per census family: Canada, provinces and territories, census metropolitan areas and census agglomerations. https://doi.org/10.25318/9810012301-eng ↩︎
  2. Statistics Canada. (2012, September). Fifty years of families in Canada: 1961 to 2011. 2011 Analytical products. https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/as-sa/98-312-x/98-312-x2011003_1-eng.cfm ↩︎
  3. Statistics Canada. (2012). Families reference guide, 2011 Census. https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census- recensement/2011/ref/guides/98-312-x/98-312-x2011005-eng.cfm ↩︎
  4. Statistics Canada. (2022, July 13). Table 98-10-0124-01 Census family structure including detailed information on stepfamilies, number of children, average number of children and age of youngest child: Canada, provinces and territories, census metropolitan areas and census agglomerations. https://doi.org/10.25318/9810012401-eng ↩︎
  5. Statistics Canada. (2022, July 13). Home alone: More persons living solo than ever before, but roomies the fastest growing household type. The Daily. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220713/dq220713a-eng.htm?indid=32985-4&indgeo=0 ↩︎
  6. Statistics Canada. (1996). Census families in private households by age groups of youngest never-married child at home (10), showing family structure (7), for Canada, provinces, territories and census metropolitan areas, 1991 and 1996 censuses (20% sample data). https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/English/census96/data/tables/Rp- eng.cfm?LANG=E&APATH=3&DETAIL=1&DIM=0&FL=A&FREE=1&GC=0&GID=0&GK=0&GRP=1&PID=1035&PRID=0&PT  YPE=89103&S=0&SHOWALL=No&SUB=0&Temporal=2006&THEME=24&VID=0&VNAMEE=&VNAMEF ↩︎
  7. Findlay, L. C., Wei, L., & Arim, R. (2021, August 25). Patterns of participation in early learning and child care among families with potential socioeconomic disadvantages in Canada. Economic and Social Reports. https://doi.org/10.25318/36280001202100800002-eng ↩︎
  8. Statistics Canada. (2022, November 9). Disaggregated trends in poverty from the 2021 Census of Population. Analytical products, 2021 Census. https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2021/as-sa/98-200-X/2021009/98-200- X2021009-eng.cfm ↩︎