An overview of Census changes that strengthen our portrait of diversity
December 13, 2022
Accurate and timely data collection have played an important role in our growing understanding of family diversity. Families are shaped and informed by the diversities and identities of those who comprise them. Over the years, researchers and statisticians have created new measurements and methods to ensure that they are both accurate and meaningful to the people being counted.
This process has driven many changes in the Census of Population of Canada over the past half century. In recent years, a growing awareness and acceptance of gender and sexual diversity has fuelled calls for change in how gender is measured. Following extensive consultations in preparation for the 2021 Census, Statistics Canada added a new response category allowing for responses other than male and female, and changed how the question is asked. Canada is the first country to provide census data on transgender and non-binary people.1
With this shift, the 2021 Census offers our most detailed picture yet of families. It represents an important step forward for understanding diversity and for the development of evidence-based supports and services for transgender and non-binary people across the country.
Evolving measures, evolving understandings
Transgender, non-binary, and LGBTQ2+ people in general have become increasingly visible in legislation and institutions in Canada in the last decade. Gender expression and identity were added to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act in 2017.
This shift is taking place alongside some equally important progress in social and demographic research. While preparing for the 2021 Census, Statistics Canada received feedback during consultations with the public and stakeholder groups indicating that some people felt they were “not able to see themselves in the two responses of male or female on the existing sex question in the census.” Information on LGBTQ2+ people was “by far the most commonly reported gap” in the consultations, and more than 70% of those who reported this gap had referenced gender in their feedback.2
As a result, the following changes were made to the 2021 Census questionnaire: “at birth” was added to the sex question on the census questionnaire, to make a distinction between the separate concepts of sex and gender, and, secondly, a new question on gender was included: “What was this person’s sex at birth?” and “What is this person’s gender?”3 Three response options were provided: male, female, and the option box “Or please specify,” which allowed people to self-define their current gender. The census also measures the gender diversity status of couples for the first time, permitting the distinction of different-gender couples, same-gender couples, and couples that include at least one transgender or non-binary person.
With these changes, all women, men, and non-binary persons in Canada can be counted in a manner that maintains the historical continuity of information on sex, which addresses this important knowledge and information gap.4
A portrait of the trans and non-binary populations in Canada
So, what does this census portrait show? According to the 2021 Census, 1 in 300 people in Canada aged 15 or older living in private households were transgender or non-binary (0.33%). That’s nearly 101,000 people, of whom four in 10 (41%) are non-binary, 31% are transgender women, and 28% are transgender men.5
Among all married and common-law couples (8.6 million), nearly 128,000 were either same-gender (cisgender) couples, transgender couples, or non-binary couples (1.5% of couples). Approximately one in 250 couples included at least one transgender or non-binary person. There were approximately twice as many transgender couples (a couple in which at least one member was transgender and neither member was non-binary) as non-binary couples (in which at least one member was non‑binary).
Gender: an individual’s personal and social identity as a man, woman, or non-binary person
Sex at birth: typically assigned at birth based on a person’s reproductive system and other physical characteristics
Cisgender person: a man or woman whose gender corresponds with sex assigned at birth
Transgender person: a man or woman whose gender does not correspond with sex assigned at birth
Non-binary person: an individual who is not exclusively a man or a woman (e.g., agender, fluid, queer, or Two-Spirit)6
New Census data complement Trans Pulse Survey findings
This is a major step forward, since the census is far from just another survey; the resources and infrastructure available to Statistics Canada mean that reliable data can be collected for smaller populations such as transgender and non-binary people. Analyzing couples based on their gender diversity provides unique insights into their family experiences as well.
Insights on family experiences, dynamics, and relationships can be found in the Trans Pulse Survey reports, which are based on a 2019 survey of 2,873 trans and non-binary people across Canada aged 14 and older.7 While the report’s authors note that it was not possible to conduct a random sample of the trans and non-binary populations (meaning that the results “cannot be assumed to represent true population demographics”), it nonetheless provides unique and powerful insights into the experiences of trans and non-binary people, including family relationships. This family lens is important to understanding their wellbeing, as previous research has found that family support is protective against the impact of victimization on trans youth’s mental health.8
The survey asks about specific supportive actions and behaviours between parents/guardians and trans or non-binary youth. While the majority of surveyed trans or non-binary people (58%) was told by their parents/guardians that they were respected/supported, only half said they were called by their correct name. One-third said that their parents/guardians had stood up for them against family, friends, or others. One in five received helped with identity document name and/or gender changes, and another one in five were lent money to fund gender-affirming medical care.9
Unfortunately, many trans people didn’t report being supported—or worse. One-quarter of surveyed youth said they had family members who stopped speaking to them or who ended their relationship with them because they were trans/non-binary. One in five had family members who did not let them wear clothes reflecting their gender, and one in 10 were sent by family to a therapist, counsellor, or religious advisor to try to stop them from being trans or non-binary.
Bringing gender diversity into better focus
While refinements and adjustments will undoubtedly be made over the years to how the census measures gender in the years to come, the 2021 Census is a milestone in tracking diversity in Canada. The census is a powerful tool that generates reliable data for use by smaller and marginalized populations such as transgender and non-binary people, for whom there is now a census-based portrait.
The Trans Pulse Survey offers a closer look at the unique experiences of trans and non-binary people. The reports show that, while trans and non-binary people benefit from family and social support, many do not have strong support in this regard, particularly when one looks more closely at specific actions of support, such as standing up for them against others or providing financial support for gender-affirming medical care.
In the years to come, data from these sources will be increasingly important to the work of decision makers, employers, and across Canada’s health care, education, and justice services, helping them to better support the wellbeing of trans and non-binary people and their families.
- Statistics Canada. 2022. Canada is the first country to provide census data on transgender and non-binary people. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220427/dq220427b-eng.htm
- Statistics Canada. 2019. The 2021 Census of Population Consultation Results: What we heard from Canadians. https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2021/consultation/92-137-x/92-137-x2019001-eng.cfm
- Statistics Canada. 2020. 2021 Census: 2A. https://www.statcan.gc.ca/en/statistical-programs/instrument/3901_Q1_V7
- Statistics Canada. 2022. Filling the gaps: Information on gender in the 2021 Census. https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2021/ref/98-20-0001/982000012021001-eng.cfm
- Statistics Canada. 2022. Understanding who we are: Sex at birth and gender of people in Canada. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-627-m/11-627-m2022049-eng.htm
- Classification of cisgender, transgender and non-binary (statcan.gc.ca).
- Trans Pulse Survey. 2021. Health and well-being among trans and non-binary youth: Health disparities and the importance of social support. https://transpulsecanada.ca/results/report-health-and-well-being-among-trans-and-non-binary-youth
- Bauer, G.R., Scheim, A.I., Pyne, J., et al. Intervenable factors associated with suicide risk in transgender persons: A respondent driven sampling study in Ontario, Canada. BMC Public Health 15, 525 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-015-1867-2.
- Trans Pulse Survey. 2021.