The Canadian Marriage Map

A compilation of data on marriage

Topics: Family, Marriage

Update June 2021

Healthy marriages contribute to stable families and vibrant communities. Economic and cultural shifts have made it more difficult to enter and sustain healthy marriages. Reliable data can help us better understand changes in Canadian family life and inform the questions we need to pursue in supporting families in the years ahead.

The Canadian Marriage Map compiles data on marriage in one convenient place, highlighting current trends at the national and provincial/territorial level. The project provides historical context and regional and international comparisons to help better understand marriage within Canadian family life.

Using the Marriage Map

The data below is compiled from a number of sources clearly labelled on each graph and chart. The sources provide additional data and analysis that users may find helpful.

Where possible, marriage is distinguished from other family structures. Some sources refer to couple families (married or common-law couples, without or without children) and intact families (a couple family in which all children in the household are the biological and/or adopted children of both members of the couple). Lone-parent families are defined as families of only one parent and his or her child(ren). It’s helpful to note these distinctions where marriage is specifically referenced.

The Marriage Map explores the following themes:

  • Marriage and Family Structure
  • Marriage and Divorce
  • Marital Status and Children’s Living Arrangements
  • Household Size
  • Marriage and Income
  • Attitudes on Marriage

Marriage and Family Structure

Family structure in Canada has been shifting for decades. While married families remain the majority of all census families, the portion of married families has decreased, while common-law and lone-parent families have increased.

Statistics Canada no longer publishes data on age at first marriage. The most recent data (2008) shows that the average age of first marriage for men and women is increasing. Examining marital status of young adults (ages 20–34) provides another view of the shift toward later age of marriage. The chart also shows a growth in the portion of common-law couples, and in young adults living without partners.

Same-sex marriage was legalized federally in 2005, and the 2006 census was the first to capture data on married same-sex couples. With the latest census in 2016, we now have ten years of census data on same-sex marriages in Canada.

Marriage and Divorce

National marriage and divorce rates derived from vital statistics are no longer published as of 2011, with 2008 as the final data year. There are a number of measures that social scientists use to estimate rates of divorce. Below are the number of marriages and divorces over time, and the crude marriage and divorce rates (number per 1,000 population) as of 2008.

With an absence of divorce-rate data, some scholars are exploring other data sources. Margolis, Choi, Hou, and Hann developed divorce-rate estimates using tax data and compared the data to the now discontinued vital statistics data. Although there are disadvantages to using tax data, Margolis et al. estimate a recent decline in the divorce rate. This decline is likely partially due to a decline in marriages.

Common-law couples account for about 17.8 percent of all census families, or about 21.3 percent of all couples in Canada. Quebec, Nunavut, and Northwest Territories have some of the highest portion of common-law couples in North America.

Some common-law partnerships are a prelude to marriage, while others are an alternative to marriage. Common-law relationships are more prone to dissolution compared to marriage, and couples have varying legal rights from region to region across Canada.

Marital Status and Children's Living Arrangement

Marriage is linked to positive outcomes for children. The following graphs examine the presence of children in couple families, and the prevalence of children in various family structures across the country and over time.

Parenting without a partner can present many challenges. Although lone parents are overrepresented among lone-income families, Canadian policies have made significant strides in helping lone-parent families over the last several decades.

Household Size

Household size has decreased as the portion of married Canadians has decreased. Statistics Canada reports that in 2006 unmarried Canadians living in private households outnumbered married Canadians for the first time. The following graphs show the growth in one-person households as the size of family households decreased.

Marital Status and Income

In Canada as in the United Kingdom and United States, marriage is associated with a growing income divide. Wealthier families are more likely to be married. Economic and cultural forces have contributed to the decline of marriage among lower-income Canadians.

Increasing labour-force participation among women over the last few decades has resulted in changes in the portion of household income that each partner receives.

Attitudes on Marriage

Attitudes toward marriage are an important cultural indicator. While most Canadians remain positive about marriage and the level of commitment it signifies, they are less likely to consider marriage as a necessary part of family life.