Common-law couples on the rise: census data
TORONTO — A new slice of census data shows the typical Canadian family is deviating further from the nuclear structure that was once the norm, with more couples living in common-law relationships and childless.
Statistics Canada released results from the 2021 national census on Wednesday which show that 23% of couples who live together are unmarried – the highest percentage of any G7 country.
“Since Statistics Canada began tracking common-law couples 40 years ago, in 1981, there has been enormous growth, both in the number and proportion of couples living in common-law unions,” said Nora Galbraith, senior analyst at Statistics Canada’s Research Centre. demography.
“The number has actually increased fivefold over the past 40 years. In comparison, when we look at married couples, the growth has been much more modest.”
During the same period, the number of married couples increased by only a quarter.
The trend, Galbraith said, could be attributed to a number of things.
“It reflects different societal changes, potentially more secularization within the culture in Canada,” she said.
In many cases, common-law spouses enter this type of union after being in a previous relationship, Galbraith added.
“When you look at blended families, the share of common-law spouses is much higher than among childless couples,” she said.
According to Statistics Canada, the prevalence of common-law unions is partly due to the popularity of the union in Quebec, where 43% of common-law couples in Canada live.
Omitting Quebec, the agency said the share of common-law couples in Canada would have been 17% in 2021.
Meanwhile, data reveals that the percentage of couples with a child at home is falling.
On Census Day 2021, 50% of couples living together had children, compared to 51.1% in 2016. In 1981, the proportion was 64%.
According to Statistics Canada, this is due to the “combined trends of population aging and declining fertility”.
“As the average age within the population continues to shift a bit more, that means people in relationships are on average older, so they’re less likely to be at that stage in life where they have younger dependent children living at home with them,” Galbraith said.
But at the same time, people are less likely to have children. In 2020, the most recent year for which Statistics Canada has data, there were an average of 1.4 children per woman, Galbraith said — an all-time high.
“At the same time, the average childbearing age has steadily increased over time,” she said. “With these changes, the result is that fewer young adults who are in relationships have children at home today.”
Census data shows that the share of single-parent households has remained relatively stable, but the percentage of children living primarily with their father has increased.
The share in 2021 was 21%, compared to 14% in 1981.
And for the first time, the Snapshot of Canadian Families also includes more detailed information on gender diversity within families after Statistics Canada changed the census in 2021 to differentiate between sex assigned at birth and gender.
Data shows that one in 250 couples includes at least one transgender or non-binary person.
Margo Hilbrecht, executive director of the Vanier Institute of the Family, said census releases like this are key to ensuring government policy keeps up with social change.
“It’s the first step in motivating policy makers to re-evaluate what they’ve done and figure out where more changes need to be made,” she said.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 13, 2022.