Fewer Children, Later Marriage, More Divorce in Canadian Families: Study



October 6, 2010

OTTAWA, October 5, 2010 ( – The Vanier Institute of the Family has released “Families Count: Profiling Canada’s Families IV,” the fourth in a series of publications since 1994 that draw on the most recent data to provide a new picture of Canadian families and the challenges they face. For pro-family advocates, the report paints a worrying picture of increased cohabitation and divorce, later marriages, and fewer children.

Timed to provide a backdrop for National Family Week (October 4-9), Families Count details the trends that are reshaping family life in Canada.

“National Family Week gives us occasion to celebrate the central place of families in our lives, and to acknowledge the incredibly vital role that families play in society. Few things are of greater importance to Canadians than the health and well-being of our families,” said Clarence Lochhead, Executive Director of the Vanier Institute of the Family, in a press release.

“Canada’s families may be changing in some remarkable ways, but in all their diversity, they remain the cornerstone of our lives,” Lochhead said.

“The research shows we are too often taking the remarkable resiliency and strength of families for granted,” said Lochhead. “Many families are simply being stretched beyond their capacity. The evidence can be seen in rising rates of poverty, growing levels of household debt, and the many stresses emanating from the severe time crunch so many Canadians routinely face.”

The structure of families has changed dramatically in the last three generations, according to the report.

“Today’s families are smaller. Adults wait longer to marry if they do so at all. Common law unions are no longer just a preliminary or trial stage before marriage but, for many, an alternative to marriage,” the study reveals. The study found that ‘Married with children’ families now represent only 39% of all families, versus 55% in 1981, with cohabiting couples with children, and married couples with no children, now also representing about 38% of families.

“By and large, Canadians view cohabitation as a complement to marriage rather than a substitute for it,” the study says, adding that less than half of Canadian adults are now married, and over half of first unions are now common law for Canadians between 20-29.

The age at first marriage has risen significantly, with 30.5 years the average age for men and 28.5 years for women, with a consequent older age for bearing a first child.

“On average, Canadians wait longer than did their parents or grandparents to have children. They are more likely to separate or divorce. In less than a lifetime, the dual-earner family has gone from an exception to the norm, and a growing number of women are primary income earners within their families,” the report notes.

“These fundamental changes in the structure of families compel us to rethink how best to respect and support families in all of their diversity – at every level from policy to programs,” the authors of the report state.

The report also highlights the fact that “family and child poverty remain persistent social problems, while enormous inequalities of wealth and income continue to separate rich and poor. Particularly vulnerable are Canada’s Aboriginal families, new immigrants and families that rely on a single earner. Food banks have become familiar community institutions.”

Pointing out the ease with which families may sink into debt thanks to the availability of easy credit, the report says that, “Within a generation, the availability and use of credit has fundamentally altered the ways in which families purchase goods and services, and manage household finances. Household debt is at record levels, and savings at record lows. That picture is set against an increasing wealth inequality. Economic security is an elusive goal for many.”

Katherine Scott, the Vanier Institute of the Family’s Director of Programs and principal author of Families Count, concludes that, “Our success as a nation – whether it’s the economy, the environment, health care, or our aging population – will depend on the health of our families, and there’s much we can do to increase our chances of success by supporting families.”

An abstract with links to the full text of the report “Families Count – Profiling Canada’s Families IV” is available here.

Email Us 

Get Publications Delivered

TO Your Inbox

Sign up for our newsletter to stay informed about upcoming events, action items, and everything else ARPA
Never miss an article.