Canadian family data in context
The new 2016 Census family data has been released. This new information will help us understand how marriage, divorce, cohabitation, and many other indicators are faring in our country. Data comparison with years gone by is more difficult this year, given the way in which Statistics Canada is presenting the data. In many instances, the disparate family forms of cohabitation and marriage are lumped together.
Understanding that marriage underpins a prosperous society, Canadians, along with their friends and neighbours in the Anglosphere, need to begin asking tough questions about what the demise of marriage— and the failure to accurately measure it—might mean for family stability and health.
Marriage is far more than just a piece of paper. It is a stabilizing institution in society. Children raised by their own married parents fare better than other family forms like cohabitation and lone parenting on a host of factors, including educational attainment and prevalence of risk behaviours. Studies show that happily married adults have higher life satisfaction and better health in several key areas: heart health and cancer being just two. Robust marriage indicators point to increased family stability.
In Canada for the first time in 2016, one person families are the most common household type, at 28.2 percent of families. Most children are raised by their own biological or adopted parents, but Statistics Canada is not making the breakdown of how many of those parents are married versus common-law easily accessible. Quebec has a far lower marriage rate, resulting in a small portion of married families and a lower portion of children raised in married-parent homes.
Marriage in Canada has been trending downward for decades. Among the countries we compared, Canada had the third highest percentage of married families in 2011, after the United States and the United Kingdom. Given the importance of marriage, Canadians need to ask themselves about the effects of lower marriage rates on families and social stability.
The earlier data measures married couples as a percentage of census families, while the new data measures married couples as a percentage of all couples. The share of marriage is decreasing; marriage as a percent of all couples cannot be compared with marriage as a percent of census families.
In Canada, married same-sex couples account for 0.3 percent of all couples in the 2011 census. In Quebec married same-sex couples accounted for 2.2 percent of all couples in 2011. In Canada in 2016, same-sex couples, both married and cohabiting, made up just shy of one percent of all couples at 0.9 percent.
The United Kingdom legalized same-sex marriage in 2014; New Zealand in 2013 and neither have released new census data at time of press for comparison. Australia does not have samesex marriage.