On February 7, 2019, Statistics Canada published new family data from the 2017 General Social Survey (GSS), providing a fresh look at Canada’s diverse grandparents, who, on average, are older yet healthier, have fewer grandchildren and are less available to provide care than in the past.
Canada’s grandparents are a diverse and evolving group, many of whom 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, grandparents will continue to play a large – and quite possibly growing – role in family life.
This release from Statistics Canada sheds valuable new light on some of the social and demographic trends affecting grandparents, great-grandparents and their families:
The number of grandparents in Canada has grown over the years, but they account for a smaller share of the population.
- Canada was home to more than 7.5 million grandparents in 2017, up from 5.4 million in 1995.1
- In 2017, 47% of Canadians aged 45 and older were grandparents, down from 57% in 1995.2
Grandparents have fewer grandchildren compared with previous generations, as fertility rates have fallen over the decades.
- In 2017, grandparents in Canada had an average 4 grandchildren (down from 5 in 1995) and 43% had fewer than 5 grandchildren (up from three-quarters in 1995).3
The grandparent population in Canada is growing older, reflecting broader demographic trends.
- 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 (the first time the question was asked in the GSS).4
- In 2017, nearly 8% of grandparents were aged 85 and older, up from 3% in 1995.5
Grandparents (and increasingly great-grandparents) are experiencing longer relationships with younger generations than in the past, as a result of rising life expectancy.
- In 2014–2016, life expectancy at birth in Canada was 84 years for women and 79.9 years for men, an increase of 4 and 6.6 years, respectively, compared with 1986.6, 7
- In 2014–2016, life expectancy at age 65 (i.e. estimated remaining life expectancy among those aged 65 and older only) was an estimated 22.1 years for women and 19.3 years for men, an increase of 3 and 4.3 years, respectively, compared with 1986.8, 9
- In 2011, the average estimated duration of grandparenthood in Canada was 24.3 years for grandmothers and 18.9 years for grandfathers.10
A growing share of grandparents are living with younger generations in multi-generational and “skip-generation” households.
- In 2017, 5% of grandparents lived in the same household as their grandchildren (up from 4% in 1995), with higher rates among foreign-born grandparents (9%).11
- In 2016, there were nearly 404,000 multi-generational households (3+ generations living together) in Canada – up 38% since 2001 and the fastest-growing household type during this period.12
- In 2016, nearly 33,000 children in Canada aged 0 to 14 lived in skip-generation households (i.e. living with grandparents with no middle generation present).13
Grandparents are more likely to report being in good health than in the past – a trend fuelled by (but not limited to) significant advances in public health that have facilitated disease prevention, detection and treatment.
- In 2011, nearly 8 in 10 (77%) of all surveyed grandparents in Canada rated their health as good/very good/excellent, up from 70% in 1985.14
- In 2011, less than one-quarter (23%) of all surveyed grandparents in Canada rated their health as fair/poor, down from 31% in 1985.15
- Overall, grandparents in Canada were 44% more likely to report being in good health in 2011 than in 1985.16
The Vanier Institute of the Family is a national, independent, charitable organization dedicated to understanding the diversity and complexity of families and the reality of family life in Canada. The Institute offers access to a range of publications, research initiatives, presentations and social media content to enhance the national understanding of how families interact with, have an impact on and are affected by social, economic, environmental and cultural forces.
Published on February 8, 2019
- Statistics Canada, “Family Matters: Grandparents in Canada,” The Daily (February 7, 2019). Link: https://bit.ly/2BnyyFO.
- Rufteen Shumanty, “Mortality: Overview, 2014 to 2016,” Report on the Demographic Situation in Canada, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 91-209-X (June 28, 2018). Link: https://bit.ly/2n1QYEw.
- Statistics Canada, “Life Expectancy,” Healthy People, Healthy Places, Statistics Canada catalogue no. 82-229-X (January 11, 2010). Link: https://bit.ly/2GfQfvi.
- Shumanty, “Mortality: Overview, 2014 to 2016.”
- Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, Mortality Projections for Social Security Programs in Canada (April 2014). Link: http://bit.ly/2gZfFh5.
- Rachel Margolis, “The Changing Demography of Grandparenthood,” Journal of Marriage and Family, 78:3 (March 2016). Link: http://bit.ly/2TOoHAs.
- Statistics Canada, “Family Matters: Grandparents in Canada.”
- Statistics Canada, “Families, Households and Marital Status: Key Results from the 2016 Census,” The Daily (August 2, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/2ByjNkj.
- Rachel Margolis, “Grandparent Health and Family Well-Being,” Transition (September 5, 2017). Link: https://bit.ly/2LNTQQI.