National Post

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

Families growing less traditional

National Post


Jeff Vinnick/National Post
More Canadians are living together and not marrying, according to the latest figures released by Statistics Canada.

OTTAWA -- "Traditional'' no longer describes the universal ideal for family in Canada, the latest census numbers from Statistics Canada suggest.

Modern Canadians are not content to simply find a mate, hit the altar and live happily ever after.

In fact, the latest census data released Tuesday suggests the Canadian family is changing quite emphatically.

Households consisting of four or more people -- typically mom, dad and their two kids -- accounted for only a quarter of all Canadian households in 2001. Two decades earlier, they accounted for a third.

At the same time, the number of households is rising -- to almost 11.6 million, a 6.9 per cent increase from 1996. The increase in smaller households was the biggest single contributor to the growth.

Statistics Canada says there are several known factors behind the changing numbers -- fertility rates are lower, couples are delaying having children and more just aren't having children at all.

In addition, Canadians are living longer so couples have more of their lives to spend together as empty-nesters after raising their children. And marital or common-law breakups often create two smaller households.

While most children to age 14 still lived with married parents in 2001, their proportion has fallen to 68 per cent from 84 per cent in 1981.

In 2001, more than a million children, or about 19 per cent, did not live with two parents. Most of those lived with one parent, usually lone mothers.

In seven of 13 provinces and territories, more than one in five children lived with a lone parent. In the Yukon, it was one in four.

"The 2001 census showed that there's a continuation in the decline of what used to be called the traditional family -- mom, dad and the kids,'' said Pierre Turcotte, a Statistics Canada analyst.

"They are now less than half of all the families in Canada. And the decrease would be even steeper if we were only to consider married moms and dads with kids.''

Indeed, television's Cleaver family never looked like this.

More Canadians are living alone or living together and not marrying. More are not having kids. Still others are not marrying and having kids.

People like Lianne Thompson are no longer content to wait for Prince Charming to show up, sweep them off their feet and ride with them into a sunset promising two kids and a house in the suburbs.

She is the embodiment of what the 2001 census paints as the changing Canadian family.

In her mid-30s at the time, the corporate services manager decided three years ago to become a single parent.

Thompson says people used to get married because "it was the expected thing to do.''

"More recently, at least for single women, a lot of us feel that we're not going to get married just for the sake of getting married,'' she said.

"However, children are still a big desire for a lot of us. So . . . they'll look at other ways to build a family.''

Raised in a typical baby-boomer, church-going home with a sibling, a banker father and a stay-at-home mom in Toronto, Thompson loves her work but has tailored her career to her chosen lifestyle.

She works regular hours, sometimes at home, and avoids travel and overtime.

Awaiting completion of a second adoption, she has moved closer to friends and family, fostering a support network for herself and three-year-old Bryanna.

Ken Solmon, vice-president and director of consumer insights at Wunderman Canada, a Toronto-based direct-marketing group, said communication and awareness are key elements in the evolution of Canadian society.

The ability to "see further and faster'' through television, the Internet and other forms of communication has opened minds and relaxed social values, he said.

"The alternative viewpoints are no longer suppressed to the extent that they were,'' Solmon said. "This incredible diversity is becoming acceptable.

"I'm deciding how to live according to my own personal tastes and my own personal lifestyle. I am less driven by societal pressures to conform to a single pattern.''

The trends have tremendous potential for advertisers, who can now target audiences and markets that -- officially at least -- didn't exist before or have grown to the extent that going after them has now become worthwhile.

It has also had implications for insurance and pension plans, which are suddenly paying benefits to same-sex partners.

For the first time, Statistics Canada collected census data on same-sex partnerships, primarily because of their changing legal status. New federal legislation two years ago required same-sex partners to receive the same benefits as heterosexual couples

A total of 34,200 same-sex, common-law couples were counted in the 2001 census, representing 0.5 per cent of all Canadian couples and three per cent of all common-law couples. Most lived in urban areas.

The proportion of same-sex couples was highest in Quebec and British Columbia, each standing at 0.6 per cent of all couples. Ontario had the largest number of same-sex couples -- 12,505, or 0.5. per cent of couples. Newfoundland had the lowest proportion, at 0.1 per cent.

More female same-sex couples had children living with them -- 15 per cent compared with three per cent of male couples.

Solmon notes the evolution of values has been accompanied by diversification in the workplace -- more flexible hours, for example, allowing both parents in a family with kids to work.

And better technology -- including a wider range of birth control options -- makes the decision not to have kids easier to execute.

He said women now have the ability to work and choose an alternative lifestyle in much the same way as gays and lesbians can.

"I would never say that the biological clock has been stopped or turned off or is no longer relevant. But I would say that it is no longer the prime driver for a lot of people.''

But Diane Watts of Real Women of Canada contends that, whatever the numbers suggest, Canadians still cherish the family above all else.

She attributes the shifts more to economics than values.

"We have to view the whole picture,'' said Watts. "The fact is, we can't conclude from statistics that Canadians aren't interested in family life.''

In fact, the statistics indicate that married couples still accounted for 70 per cent of all families in Canada in 2001. But that is down from 83 per cent in 1981.

And while common-law couples rose to 14 per cent from six in that time, Statistics Canada says trends suggest 75 per cent will eventually marry.

Common-law was strongest in Quebec, where it accounts for 30 per cent of all couples. Almost 29 per cent of children were living with common-law parents in Quebec, more than double the national average of 13 per cent.

The percentage of children living with common-law parents in 2001 was more than four times the proportion of two decades earlier. The percentage of step families rose to 12 per cent from 10 in 1995, when the last figure was taken.

"I think these statistics indicate that there are serious pressures on Canadians and on families that maybe should be addressed,'' said Watts.

Pressures such as high taxation that ``almost forces the family'' to have two working members rather than one working and one staying at home to care for the family, she said.

The pressures sometimes created by two working parents also destroy families, children and marriages, said Watts.

"What we are proposing is more family-friendly legislation. One of those is taxation.''

In a presentation to the Commons heritage committee, Real Women said there isn't enough balance in Canadian broadcasting -- in other words, not enough of the Cleavers.

"There seems to be a terrible imbalance in the values represented and the values promoted,'' she said. "That possibly could influence people.

"Our members complain all the time about what they see on television and hear on the radio. And what's even worse is that it's Canadian broadcasting which is often paid for by our taxes.''

In its latest report, Statistics Canada also says the trend toward smaller households is continuing in Canada. The number of two-parent families with children is declining and the number of couples without children is rising.

Couples who had no children under 25 at home accounted for 41 per cent of all families in 2001, up from barely 34 per cent in 1981.

Lou and Karen Penney, both 37, are DINKs -- double income, no kids. They've been together 16 years, married 13 and decided early on that they didn't want children.

They both have careers -- Lou, from Canning's Cove, Nfld., is a military photographer; Karen, from Winnipeg, is a risk-and-control officer for five regional bank branches. They live in a large home in suburban Ottawa.

"I always said I'd never get married and I did,'' says Lou. "But from Day 1, I had this mindset that I did not want children.''

Soon, the Pennys were in their 30s and many friends had kids already in school. That sealed it.

Now they work, they entertain, they travel to visit family several times a year. And they indulge in the good life -- Karen in her home and her Corvette; Lou in his ``toys,'' including a motorcycle, a boat and a snowmobile.

"I don't think it's fair to have kids just for the sake of having kids,'' says Lou, a corporal who spent six months in Afghanistan.

"We thought the best for us would be to just live the life of solitude and freedom and do whatever we want. And, you know what? I wouldn't have it any other way. I am so thankful I don't have any kids: No responsibilities.''

Karen said she grew up expecting to marry and have a family. But the realities of life seemed to take over and sweep them away -- careers, transfers, overseas assignments.

They enjoy kids, she says, but ``it's really nice when they go home.

"I've got 20 years with the bank and I wouldn't be where I am . . . if we'd settled down and had a family.''

Tuesday's release was the third instalment of the latest census data, collected in May 2001.

In the first, the agency reported that Canada's population continues to migrate to urban centres, and that its main source of population growth is immigration.

In a second release, Statistics Canada reported that an aging population bulge known as the boom generation will soon be facing retirement, posing questions for Canada's social services, pension funds and job market.

The next release on Dec. 10 deals with language, with Statistics Canada providing snapshots of immigration on Jan. 21, the labour force on Feb. 11 and education and religion on March 11 and May 13 respectively.

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