A Statistics Canada analysis of the 2011 census is drawing public attention towards the status of the traditional family. “Portraits of Family and Living Arrangements in Canada” shows a small decline in traditional family arrangements from 2006 to 2011. There was a 3.1 per cent increase in married couples (including homosexual couples), while families led by single-parents and common-law couples increased by 8 per cent and 13.9 per cent, respectively. Nearly 13 per cent of couples with children were stepfamilies, demonstrating the impact of divorce and remarriage on family structure.
In 2011, for the first time, there were more common-law than single-parent families and more one-person households than couples with children under 24. The number of homosexual married couples tripled owing to the legalization of same-sex marriage and there were 15 per cent more same-sex common-law couples than before. For the first time in 2006, there were more couples living without children than living with children. By 2011, 44.5 per cent had no children and 39.2 per cent did.
Such trends have prompted some media outlets to ring the death knell for the traditional family. “The census family occupies an expansive reality immune from the narrowing definitions imposed by moralizers, political opportunists and 1950s nostalgists,” John Allemang wrote in The Globe and Mail. “Clearly it’s a definition that’s in constant flux, as the quiet reference to same-sex couples shows. But then the historical definitions of ‘family’ have always been more elastic than the more rigid guardians of the term like to think.”
Allemang was not alone. “Not only does the increase in non-conventional family arrangements suggest social conservatism is well and truly dead in Canada, as a political force, it also presents a challenge to the ruling Conservatives,” Michael Den Tandt wrote for PostMedia.
Nevertheless, the traditional family is still by no means a minority. Fully two-thirds of families (67 per cent) were opposite-sex married couples, which is down by less than 3.5 per cent from 2001. Moreover, the percentage of married families is higher than the national average everywhere except Québec and the territories. Nearly two-thirds of children 14 and under (63.6 per cent) still live with married parents, although the number is also down.
Gwen Landolt, the national vice president of REAL Women of Canada, said to The Interim that the decline of the traditional family has been exaggerated by the media. In fact, “most children live with their married parents” and “79.8 per cent of opposite-sex couples are married.” As for the increasing proportion of one-person households and households without children, “it’s really due to a longer lifespan,” as the children have grown old enough to move out of the household and the report “includes widows and widowers.” That means that many married households have adult children and have already lived the life of a traditional family that the pundits declared dead.
Only 0.8 per cent of Canadian couples are homosexual, and this number is likely exaggerated. Statistics Canada admitted that many roommates were counted as same-sex couples, listed as married to each other, even though each roommate was actually married to someone living at another locality. This led Statistics Canada to withhold statistics for smaller communities where the rates of same-sex relationships were simply too high.
A media release from REAL Women of Canada reported some other positive findings from the statistics. 87.4 per cent of children still remain in their biological or adopted families. While 67.5 per cent of homosexual families are common-law, only 16.7 per cent of all families are common law, illustrating that marriage and family is still the norm. Furthermore, 79 per cent of children live in a two-parent household, and only 19 per cent are raised by single parents.
Andrea Mrozek, Manager of Research and Communications at the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC), told The Interim that the traditional family is “still the most prevalent form” of family, but the trend is “going in the wrong direction.” People who are raised in traditional families are “empowered to be stronger in our communities” because of firm family support. Living with someone outside of marriage leads to “relationships that break down more readily” and single parent households are more likely to live in poverty. In a press release, the IMFC writes that in 2006, about 9 per cent of couples with children were classified by Statistics Canada as living in poverty, while 29 per cent of single parents were considered poor.