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2006 Census: Family portrait: Continuity and change in Canadian families and households in 2006: National portrait: Census families

Common-law-couple families increasing much faster than married-couple families

A 'family portrait' of Canada—a snapshot of families, marital status, households and living arrangements—was taken on May 16, 2006. This analytical document describes how families and households are changing and how children fit into Canada's evolving family structures.

Most Canadians live with other people, and often this takes the form of being part of a census family—married, common-law, or lone-parent—generally as either a spouse, partner, parent, or child. More than eight in 10 people (84.0%) lived in census families in 2006, which has been a fairly consistent proportion over the past 20 years. An additional 5.3% lived with others on Census Day, including relatives and non-relatives, and 10.7% lived alone.

Data from the 2006 Census show that many of the trends observed for at least the past 20 years are continuing. The census enumerated 8,896,800 census families in Canada in 2006, a 6.3% increase from 2001.

Table 1 Distribution and growth of census families, Canada, 2001 and 2006

Common-law-couple families grew most quickly since 2001, reflecting the greater social acceptance of this family structure. The number of common-law-couple families grew 18.9% to 1,376,900, more than five times faster than for married-couple families. The census counted 6,105,900 married-couple families, up only 3.5% from 2001.

Lone-parent families increased 7.8% to 1,414,100 in 2006 but lone-father families rose more than twice as fast (14.6%) during the intercensal period than did lone-mother families (+6.3%). Factors that could have contributed to the stronger growth for lone-father families include a decrease in mothers being awarded sole custody following a divorce and an increase in joint-custody arrangements.1

As a result of these different growth patterns, married-couple families accounted for 68.6% of all census families in 2006, down from 70.5% five years earlier. The proportion of common-law-couple families rose from 13.8% to 15.5%, while the share of lone-parent families increased marginally from 15.7% to 15.9%.

Two decades ago, common-law-couple families accounted for only 7.2% of all census families, while married-couple families represented 80.2% and lone-parent families, 12.7%.

Census families, 1921 to 2006 (Alternate format)

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