An updated overview of the growing number of multigenerational households in Canada.
July 28, 2022
While every family is multigenerational, multigenerational households (those housing three or more generations) have not been a dominant living arrangement in Canada. However, census data show that they have become the fastest growing census family household type in recent decades, which has contributed to growing discussion on this living arrangement.
Multigenerational households have always been a part of Canada’s family landscape, but a variety of factors have contributed to their recent growth. These include personal choice, socioeconomic circumstances, population aging, cultural preferences, and the increasingly complex nature of family living arrangements. Households are fluid, too, with their size and composition typically evolving over the life course as families adapt and react to life events and transitions, such as childbirth, marriage and/or divorce, economic shocks, and health changes.1
Knowing more about multigenerational family households is important to our understanding of family diversity, intergenerational relationships, and family adaptability. Like all family households, they are diverse and unique, but they also share some experiences, strengths, and vulnerabilities that warrant recognition and focused attention from researchers, policymakers, and others with an interest in families and family wellbeing.
Multigenerational households are increasing faster than all census family household types
According to the 2021 Census, there were nearly 442,000 multigenerational households in Canada. These only account for 2.9% of all private households but are now home to 2.4 million people, or 6.4% of the total population.2 Multigenerational households have increased in number by 50% since 2001 – much higher than the overall increase of 30%.
A growing number of children aged 14 and under are living with grandparents. In 2021, 9% of children aged 14 and under (517,000) lived with at least one grandparent, up from 3.3% in 2001. More than 9 in 10 of these children (93%) are living in multigenerational households.
According to the 2017 General Social Survey (GSS) – the most recent Family cycle of the GSS – 5% of grandparents lived in the same household as their grandchildren, up slightly from 4% in 1995.3
Population aging contributes to more grandparents living with younger generations
With population aging and rising life expectancy, a growing proportion of Canadians have older family members alive today. Population aging intersects with other trends such as intergenerational care needs, rising housing costs, and growing population of groups more likely to share a roof with younger generations, contributing to the growth in multigenerational households.
In 2021, close to one in five Canadians (19%) were 65 or older, up from 13% in 2001.4 This is projected to increase to approximately 23% by 2031,5 and could reach as high as 30% by 2068.6 Life expectancy at age 65, which has been steadily increasing and contributing to this growth, is currently at a record high of 22.2 years (87.2 years) for women and 19.5 years (84.5 years) for men.7 Factors such as advances in home care, public transportation, assistive technologies, and increased mobility have made it possible for more of these older adults to decide where and how to live.
Multigenerational living more common among Indigenous and newcomer families
Indigenous people and newcomers – both of which account for a growing number and share of Canada’s population – are more likely than others to live in multigenerational households. Several driving factors behind this relate to choice and context, including financial strategies (i.e. income/cost pooling), a lack of sufficient housing, and cultural preferences related to extended family.8
In Nunavut, where the most recent available census data show nearly half (46%) of Inuit in Canada lived in 2016 and 93% of children under five were Inuit, one-third (33%) lived with at least one of their grandparents.9 Nationally, more than one in five First Nations children (21%) and Inuit children (23%) under age five lived with a grandparent in 2016 – more than twice the proportion of non-Indigenous children (10%).10
Families new to Canada are also more likely to live in multigenerational households than those born in Canada. Data from the 2017 GSS showed that grandparents born outside Canada (9%) were more than twice as likely as those born in Canada (4%) to live with grandchildren.11 Multigenerational living can provide recent immigrants with social, economic, and cultural support, in addition to facilitating care. This support and familiarity can be critical to their wellbeing as they adapt and establish financial stability and social connections.
It is therefore not surprising that Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs) with the highest proportion of multigenerational households in the 2021 Census were also home to some of the highest percentages of newcomers, including in Abbotsford-Mission (22% of households) and Brampton (28%), Markham (23%), and other municipalities in the Greater Toronto Area.
Housing cost is a driving factor in multigenerational living
Housing cost is one of the reasons for increasing multigenerational households, which has become a major topic of discussion in the media, in parliament, and among families.
In 2021, nearly one in five Canadians (19.5%) reported spending 30% or more of their income on housing (the threshold for what constitutes “unaffordable housing” in Canada12).13 The average price of a home in Canada was nearly $666,000 in Canada in June 2022 and is as high as $1.2 million in Greater Vancouver and Greater Toronto.14
Multigenerational living can facilitate family caregiving
Some families live in multigenerational households because it allows the younger generations to provide care for their older relatives. Regular company with family members can prevent social isolation among older adults, which research has shown can have wide-ranging detrimental effects on their health and wellbeing.
In 2018, GSS data show that in the past year, one-quarter of Canadians aged 15 and older provided care to a family member or a friend with a long-term, physical, or mental disability or problem related to aging. Up to 18% of Canadians aged 15 to 30 reported they provided care to family, among which grandparents were the most common care recipient (33% provided care to a grandparent).15
The middle generation in multigenerational households, sometimes called the “sandwich generation,” can face overlapping stressors from caring for both parents and children. Living together, however, can help avoid or reduce some of the stress and costs that might otherwise result from providing care to a parent who lives out of town or in another province.
Many grandparents who live with their grandchildren provide care when the parents are at work, at school, or running errands. This can help families with certain childcare costs, which can consume a significant portion of family income. This is particularly true for parents of infants, since infant childcare spaces are not only the hardest to find but also the most expensive.16
Many older family members in multigenerational households also contribute to family finances. In 2011, half (50.3%) reported at least some responsibility for household payments, with a much higher share contributing when the middle generation was a one-parent family (75%).17
House and home design evolves alongside changes in family living arrangements
No matter its size, every home has limited space, and families are deploying creative solutions to share a home while respecting and maintaining the independence of all involved. Some have set up accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in their homes for their parents that have been designed for older adult living, sometimes referred to as “granny flats” or “in-law suites.”
Architects and homebuilders’ associations are taking note of the increase in multigenerational living. New homes are being built with these trends in mind, which sometimes have extra living spaces with a separate entrance, or sometimes share one primary living space.
Multigenerational households will continue to be a research and policy focus
Multigenerational households are not new, but they are getting more attention, in part because their numbers are increasing and they are home to a growing share of Canadians. Reasons for this trend are diverse and typically involve some combination of choice, circumstance, and culture.
This living arrangement can benefit family wellbeing, facilitate intergenerational relationships, provide support to family members, and protect families from poverty and food insecurity. But, as always, context matters. While it creates opportunities for care and support, multigenerational living can also be a source of stress, crowding, and intergenerational tensions.
Houses and properties adapted to this living arrangement may benefit multigenerational family wellbeing, but what does it mean for those living in apartments, many of whom have been “priced out” of the housing market? What might this mean for households experiencing family violence?
In any event, understanding the experiences of families living in multigenerational households is essential to supporting family wellbeing across Canada. Like all shifts and trends in living arrangements over time, it demonstrates how families adapt and react to their ever-changing circumstances and respond to the social and economic climate. Data from the 2021 Census on this evolving trend will play an important role in informing housing development, community planning, and the development and administration of programs for children, youth, and seniors across Canada.
Nathan Battams is a knowledge mobilization specialist at the Vanier Institute of the Family.
- Statistics Canada. (2019). Family Matters: Adults living with their parents (The Daily). https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/daily-quotidien/190215/dq190215a-eng.pdf?st=Ou51sL6N
- Statistics Canada. (2022). Population and dwelling counts: Canada, provinces and territories (Table 98-10-0001-01). https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=9810000101; and Statistics Canada. (2022). Census family status and household living arrangements, household type of person, age group and gender: Canada, provinces and territories, census metropolitan areas and census agglomerations (Table 98-10-0134-01). https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=9810013401
- Statistics Canada. (2019). Family Matters: Grandparents in Canada (The Daily). https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/190207/dq190207a-eng.htm?HPA=1
- Statistics Canada. (2002). Profile of the Canadian population by age and sex: Canada ages (2001 Census Analysis Series). https://publications.gc.ca/Collection/Statcan/96F0030X/96F0030XIE2001002.pdf
- Statistics Canada. (2017). Age and sex, and type of dwelling data: Key results from the 2016 Census (The Daily). https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/170503/dq170503a-eng.htm?HPA=1
- Statistics Canada. (2019). Population projections: Canada, provinces and territories, 2018 to 2068 (The Daily). https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/190917/dq190917b-eng.htm
- Statistics Canada. (2020). Deaths, 2019 (The Daily). https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/201126/dq201126b-eng.htm
- Statistics Canada. (2022). 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
- Statistics Canada. (2017). Aboriginal peoples in Canada: Key results from the 2016 Census (The Daily). https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/171025/dq171025a-eng.htm
- Statistics Canada. (2017). Diverse family characteristics of Aboriginal children aged 0 to 4 (Census in Brief). https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/as-sa/98-200-x/2016020/98-200-x2016020-eng.cfm
- Statistics Canada. (2019). Family Matters: Grandparents in Canada.
- Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (page last updated March 31, 2018). About Affordable Housing in Canada. https://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/professionals/industry-innovation-and-leadership/industry-expertise/affordable-housing/about-affordable-housing/affordable-housing-in-canada
- Statistics Canada. (2022). Housing challenges remain for vulnerable populations in 2021 (The Daily). https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220721/dq220721b-eng.htm?utm_source=twt&utm_medium=smo&utm_campaign=statcan-chs-ecl-22-23
- Canadian Real Estate Association. (2022). Canadian Housing Market Stats. www.crea.ca/housing-market-stats/canadian-housing-market-stats/national-price-map
- Paula Arriagada, Farhana Khanam and Yujiro Sano. (2022). Chapter 6: Political participation, civic engagement and caregiving among youth in Canada (Portrait of Youth in Canada: Data Report). https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/42-28-0001/2021001/article/00006-eng.htm
- David Macdonald and Martha Friendly. (2022). Game Changer: Will provinces and territories meet the new federal child care fee targets? Canadian child care fees 2021. https://policyalternatives.ca/gamechanger
- Anne Milan, Nadine Laflamme and Irene Wong. (2015). Diversity of grandparents living with their grandchildren (Insights on Canadian Society). https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-006-x/2015001/article/14154-eng.htm