National Post

Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Two-parent households are waning

Down from 64% of families to 41% in three decades

Tom Arnold
National Post

The institution known as Canada's traditional family -- a married mother and father with children -- is crumbling, according to the latest figures from Statistics Canada.

The census numbers released yesterday recorded one of the most significant drops in married couples with children in Canadian history.

Such couples represented 55% of all families in Canada in 1981, while today they account for just 41%. In 1971, they accounted for 64% of all Canadian households.

To arrive at the latest figures, Statistics Canada analyzed 36 kinds of families across the country, from married couples with three or more offspring to a single male parent with one child under six to childless lesbian partners.

"It's not that people are throwing away the idea of family; it's that they are changing the ways in which they form families," said Bob Glossop of the Vanier Institute of the Family, a national agency that monitors family trends.

"There is a distinction here between family and marriage. Canadians are still partnering up. They are still making promises and commitments to each other. They are creating families."

Married couples with or without children accounted for 70% of all families in Canada in 2001, also down significantly from 83% in 1981.

"There is now a more open and inclusive definition of family, one that acknowledges lone-parent families, blended families, married couples, common-law couples and increasingly same-sex couples and same-sex couples with children as families," he added. "They are all tied together by commitments they have made over time with affection and love.

"The institution of marriage, which was once thought to be tied at the hip to the institution of family, is no longer."

Derek Rogusky, vice-president of family policy for the B.C.-based Focus on the Family, said the traditional family is far from dead.

"There are some concerns obviously. The trend is that we are seeing a little bit more and more decline," he said. "Still, the vast majority of Canadians continue to value traditional family life, that being marriage.

"Marriage is a very resilient institution. It's very much alive and well. The sky is not falling on the family."

He said there are a host of problems for the children of unmarried couples, from educational achievement to emotional and mental deficits, poverty and being a victim of crime.

The latest census data shows the size of Canadian households has dropped in the past two decades, as fewer people live in large households and more people live alone. Twenty years ago, families with four or more in the household accounted for one-third of all families; they now represent one in four.

In 2001, there were about as many one-person households as there were households with four or more people -- about one in four of the country's 11.5 million private households.

Couples who have no children are increasing, the data shows.

Also on the rise, and significantly, are the number of common-law couples in Canada. There are 1,158,410 common-law couples recorded in the 2001 census, representing 14% of all families, up from 5.6% in 1981.

Among Canada's provinces and territories, Nunavut (31%), the Northwest Territories (26%) and Quebec (25%) have the highest proportion of common-law couples. Quebec accounts for 44% of the total number of common-law couples in Canada.

Roy Beyer, president of the Calgary-based Canada Family Action Coalition, said he was disappointed by the decline in marriage. "With the erosion of families, stable families, you see a corresponding rise in teenage suicide, teenage crime rates, teenage pregnancy rates.

"I think what you're seeing with so many people living common-law is the mistaken notion that 'Before I make this huge commitment to somebody, I just want to make sure this is going to work.' It is a reflection of people who have been brought up where there has been a high divorce rate ... or the very poor examples they saw in their parents. There is also a certain cynicism of a younger generation who are waiting longer before they get married or have children."

He said living together outside of marriage is "most definitely still a sin. The activity is still contrary to the Bible."

Mr. Beyer said he believed there is "still a yearning in the hearts of most people toward a stable family to raise their children.

"I am optimistic we are going to see a turnaround. But there has to be a spiritual awakening ultimately to turn the trend."

Marriage is most popular in Newfoundland and Labrador (75% of total families), Ontario (75%) and Prince Edward Island (74%).

As of May 15, 2001, Canada had 8,371,000 families, up from almost 7,838,000 in 1996.

Almost 16% of families were headed by just one parent.

Behind these shifts in living arrangements are a number of diverse factors, such as lower fertility rates, couples who are delaying having children or who have opted to be childless. In addition, life expectancy is increasing, with one result being that couples have more of their lives to spend together as "empty-nesters" after their children grow and leave home.

The 2001 census is the first to provide data on same-sex partnerships. About 34,200 same-sex common-law couples were counted in Canada, representing 0.5% of all couples in the country. Male couples outnumbered female couples.

About 81% of same-sex couples live in Canada's 27 major metropolitan areas. Vancouver, Montreal and Victoria had the highest proportion of same-sex couples among all families.

Overall, Ontario had the largest number of gay and lesbian couples, at 12,505, while Newfoundland had the least, at 180 couples, all but 40 living in St. John's.

"What we're seeing is the recognition of the reality that there are many diverse families in Canadian society in which people choose to celebrate their love and relationships of importance," said John Fisher, executive director of Equality for Gays & Lesbians Everywhere (EGALE), a political advocacy group for gays and lesbians. "It is clear from the census results that the choices Canadians make in terms of family units are changing."

Among the other findings, more people aged 65 and over are living with a spouse, with adult children or alone, and fewer are living in health care institutions.

The census also revealed a growing trend among young adults to remain in their parents' homes. About 41% of the 3.8 million young adults aged 20 to 29 lived with their parents in 2001, up from 27% in 1981.

HIGHLIGHTS:

25% of all households are made up of four or more people, down from 33% 20 years ago.

25.7% of Canadians live alone. More people are living together and not marrying. More people are not having children; more married couples are not having children.

33% of one-person households are made up of elderly people. Falling fertility rates mean fewer people have children to live with in their old age.

3% of common-law couples are same-sex. There are 34,200 gay couples in Canada.

81% of same-sex couples live in Canada's 27 major metropolitan areas.

14% of all couples are common-law, up from 6% in 1996.

41% of twentysomethings live with their parents; 33% of men aged 30-34 live with their parents while 22% of women in that age bracket live at home.

tarnold@nationalpost.com

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