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Census variables

In a pile of fallen autumn leaves, a squirrel takes nuts from a full jar of nuts.


As we saw in the '2006 Census questions' section, there were 61 questions in the 2006 Census long questionnaire. Yet the 2006 Census Dictionary lists over 200 variables. The explanation for this discrepancy is that some questions yield a number of variables, and some variables are derived from the responses to a number of questions.

A variable can be thought of as a subject about which information can be retrieved from the census database. There are direct variables, derived variables, and coded variables. For example, the question on the sex of respondents has two response categories: male and female. These categories correspond exactly to the information in the database. For this reason, sex is said to be a direct variable. In Question 3, on the other hand, respondents are asked to provide the date of birth of each household member. The answers to the question are used to calculate the ages of respondents on Census Day, and it is this information that is stored in the database. Age is referred to as a derived variable because the information in the database is not what was asked for in the question. Coded variables are written responses that have been classified according to a predetermined classification system.

This chapter provides an overview of census variables and their possible uses. Detailed definitions of the variables are presented in the 2006 Census Dictionary. Also included in the Dictionary is information about the historical comparability of census data and the difficulties that may arise in using these data.

Census variables are grouped into the following categories:

  • counts and demographic data
  • language
  • place of birth, place of birth of father, place of birth of mother, generation status, citizenship, landed immigrant status, period of immigration
  • ethnic origin
  • Aboriginal peoples
  • visible minority population/population group
  • education
  • unpaid work
  • labour market activities
  • journey to work
  • income
  • families and households
  • housing
  • disability.

When it comes to creating new census variables, the possibilities are virtually endless. Only the most common variables are described in this section. With knowledge of the census questions, their response categories and how census variables work, users can compute or derive variables that meet their needs.


The census is divided into four universes (sets):

  • population (i.e., persons)
  • families
  • households
  • dwellings.

A household may consist of either one person or a number of related or unrelated persons sharing the same dwelling. Families are groups of persons within a household. There are two types of families: census families and economic families. There may be more than one family in a household, but only related persons living in the same dwelling can form a census family.

A household includes all persons living in the same dwelling. Therefore, there are as many private households as occupied private dwellings. Households and dwellings belong to two distinct universes: households relate to people, while dwellings have to do with the structures in which they live.

Counts and demographic data

The census counts the number of people and dwellings by geographic area. Population and dwelling counts are the first results to be released, about 10 months after Census Day. Population counts are used to realign federal electoral district boundaries following each decennial census. They also play a part in determining revenue transfers under the Federal–Provincial Fiscal Arrangements Act.

The objective of the 2006 Census was to count:

  • all Canadian citizens and landed immigrants with a usual place of residence in Canada
  • all Canadian citizens and landed immigrants posted to military bases or diplomatic missions in other countries
  • all Canadian citizens and landed immigrants at sea or in port aboard Canadian-registered merchant vessels
  • all non-permanent residents.

Persons in the second and third categories may also have a place of residence in Canada, but they need not be associated with a dwelling to be counted. The goal of the census is to count people at their usual place of residence; for most Canadians, this presents no difficulties. Problems can arise, however, when a person cannot be associated with a dwelling that fits the concept of 'usual place of residence', or when a person is associated with more than one dwelling in Canada. In the former case, the person is enumerated where he or she stayed on the night preceding Census Day; this could be, for example, a hotel, an institution or the home of friends. The latter case includes families who maintain two residences, and students living away from their parents' home. Instructions on whom to include were provided in Step B on the census questionnaire.

In short, the population counts for a community include all Canadian citizens, landed immigrants and non-permanent residents whose usual place of residence is in that community, regardless of where they happened to be on Census Day. The counts also include all Canadian citizens, landed immigrants and non-permanent residents who were staying in the community and had no usual place of residence elsewhere in Canada.

Linking people to a usual place of residence has implications for data users. For instance, in areas where resorts or large work camps are located, the demand for essential services is high on a per capita basis (i.e., in relation to the census-based usual resident population) because services must be provided to a large temporary population.

Non-permanent residents and the census universe

In the 2006 Census, non-permanent residents are defined as people from another country who had a Work or Study Permit, or who were refugee claimants at the time of the census, and family members living in Canada with them. In the 1991, 1996 and 2001 censuses, non-permanent residents also included persons who held a Minister's permit; this type of permit was discontinued by Citizenship and Immigration Canada prior to the 2006 Census.

From 1991 on, the Census of Population has enumerated both permanent and non‑permanent residents of Canada. Prior to 1991, only permanent residents of Canada were included in the census. (The only exception to this occurred in 1941) Non-permanent residents were considered foreign residents and were not enumerated.

Total population counts, as well as counts for all variables, are affected by this change in the census universe. Users should be especially careful when comparing data from 1991, 1996, 2001 or 2006 with data from previous censuses in geographic areas where there is a concentration of non-permanent residents.

Today in Canada, non-permanent residents make up a significant segment of the population, especially in several census metropolitan areas. Their presence can affect the demand for government services such as health care, education, employment programs and language training. The inclusion of non-permanent residents in the census facilitates comparisons with provincial and territorial statistics (marriages, divorces, births and deaths) which include this population. In addition, this inclusion of non-permanent residents brings Canadian practice closer to the United Nations recommendation that long-term residents (persons living in a country for one year or longer) be enumerated in the census.

Although every attempt has been made to enumerate non-permanent residents, factors such as language difficulties, the reluctance to complete a government form or to understand the need to participate may have affected the enumeration of this population.

For additional information, please refer to the 2006 Census Dictionary, catalogue number 92-566-XWE.

For counts of the non-permanent resident population in 1991, 2001 and 2006, please refer to the 2006 Census table 97-557-XCB2006006.

Age, sex, marital status and common-law status

Data on the age-sex structure of the Canadian population are needed for a variety of purposes. They are useful in planning resource allocation for education, day care facilities, health care, pension plans and many other social services and government programs. Age-sex data are also needed to maintain the accuracy of population estimates and to weight the 20% sample data from the census.

Age-sex data are crucial for any type of population research. They are used to study aging and to divide the population into subgroups based on the major phases of life, such as students, people in the labour force and senior citizens. Sex data are also useful in developing and evaluating affirmative action programs as well as programs to increase the proportion of women in non-traditional occupations.

The 2006 Census was the first Canadian census where same-sex married couples could indicate their relationship. As in the 2001 Census, the question on household relationships on the 2006 Census questionnaire includes a response category for the identification of same-sex common-law partners. Same-sex married couples can identify their relationship by providing a written response of 'same-sex married spouse' in the write-in field.

Marital status and common-law status are two indicators used to measure the formation and dissolution of couples. Conjugal life and the structure of the Canadian family are in a constant state of flux. The results of the last few censuses show that common-law union is becoming more common in all major age groups. This form of union, which in the past was often considered a prelude to marriage, has become a substantive alternative to marriage. Many of today's young people are children of such unions. Since common-law unions are known to be less stable than unions formed by traditional marriage, a child stands a much greater chance of belonging to a lone-parent family at some point in his or her childhood. Therefore, it is important to collect information about common-law unions so that institutions can monitor changes in family life and quickly adjust their social programs.

Close up photo of the act of placing a wedding ring on the brides handMarital status data combined with common-law status data provide a clearer picture of the conjugal history of individuals. For example, divorce remains a significant occurrence in our society, but a large proportion of divorced people form new unions with or without children.


Mobility data have been collected in every Canadian census since 1961 (with the exception of 1966). This variable provides information about the origin and destination of Canadians who move, as well as the age, sex, education, occupation, mother tongue and other characteristics of movers and non-movers. This information is useful to businesses and governments at all levels in the planning of future housing, education and social service needs and in assessing markets. Mobility data are also used in producing population estimates and projections for the provinces and territories and for census divisions and census metropolitan areas.

There are two types of mobility data in the 2006 Census: place of residence 5 years ago, and place of residence 1 year ago. Each type of data separates the population into two groups: non-movers and movers (people who have changed dwellings during the specified period of either 5 years or 1 year). Movers are further divided into non-migrants (people who remained in the same census subdivision when they moved) and migrants (people who moved to a different census subdivision). Migrants are classified as either internal migrants or external migrants, depending on whether they lived inside or outside Canada during the specified period of either 5 years or 1 year. It should be noted that the mobility data based on place of residence 1 year ago have been collected since 1991.

The data on migrants are available for either origin or destination and, in the case of international migration, for country of origin. In-migration, out-migration and net migration can be computed for a given area by cross-tabulating with other demographic, linguistic and socio-economic variables.

Ethnic origin

The census has collected data on the ethnic origins of people in Canada for over 100 years, reflecting a long-standing, continuing and widespread demand for information about the ethnic diversity of the population. Since 1970, the demand for statistical information on diversity has increased as a result of new federal government policy in the area of multiculturalism. Today, ethnic origin data are used extensively by government agencies, ethno-cultural associations, researchers and members of the business community for a wide range of activities, including health promotion, social service planning, communications and marketing.

Over time, there have been differences in the question wording, format, examples and instructions of the ethnic origin question used in the census. The historical comparability of ethnic origin data has thus been affected by these factors, as well as by changes in data processing and the social environment at the time of the census.

The 2006 Census ethnic origin question asked 'What were the ethnic or cultural origins of this person's ancestors?.' Respondents were asked to specify as many origins as applicable. Four lines were provided for write-in responses and up to six ethnic origins were retained.

The format of the 2006 Census ethnic origin question is the same as that asked in the 2001 and 1996 censuses. However, the wording of the question has been slightly modified. Based on results of the Ethnic Diversity Survey, held in 2002, the question no longer asks 'To which ethnic or cultural group(s) did this person's ancestors belong?', but rather 'What were the ethnic or cultural origins of this person's ancestors?'. As well, the preamble to the question was modified slightly for 2006 and a definition of 'ancestor' was placed directly on the questionnaire. The order of the examples was also updated.

The 2006 Census ethnic origin question provided 26 examples of ethnic and cultural origins. It is not possible to list all of Canada's more than 200 ethnic or cultural groups on the census questionnaire and examples are provided only as a guide as to how to answer the question. The list of examples used each census is based on Statistics Canada's long-established methodology. For the most part, the 26 examples used in 2006 represented the most frequent single origins reported in the 2001 Census and were arranged in order of size as reported in 2001, beginning with the largest group.

As a result of changing immigration patterns and increasing diversity in Canada, modifications are made to the specific ethnic groups and categories for which data are released each census. In general, the dissemination list for ethnic and cultural origins grows slightly each year. For the 2006 Census ethnic origin classification and a comparison of ethnic origins released in 2006, 2001, and 1996, please consult the 2006 Census Dictionary.

It must be noted that the measurement of ethnicity is affected by changes in the social environment in which the questions are asked, and changes in the respondent's understanding or views about the topic. Awareness of family background or length of time since immigration can affect responses to the ethnic origin question. Some respondents may confuse or combine the concept of ethnic origin with other concepts such as citizenship, nationality, language or cultural identity.

For more information on the data quality and historical comparability issues for ethnic origin, please refer to the Ethnic Origin Reference Guide, 2006 Census, Catalogue no. 97-562-GWE2006025.

Visible minority population/Population group

The population group question on the census is used to derive counts for the visible minority population in Canada, as defined by the Employment Equity Act (1986). The Employment Equity Act defines visible minorities as 'persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour'.

The first time a population group question was asked in the census was in 1996. In 1986 and 1991, data on visible minorities were derived from responses to the ethnic origin question, in conjunction with other ethno-cultural information, such as language, place of birth and religion. Caution should be used when comparing visible minority data between censuses which used different data collection methods.

In the 2006 population group question, response categories included 11 mark-in circles and one write-in box. Respondents were asked to mark or specify one or more of the following: White, Chinese, South Asian (e.g., East Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, etc.), Black, Filipino, Latin American, Southeast Asian (e.g., Vietnamese, Cambodian, Malaysian, Laotian, etc.), Arab, West Asian (e.g., Iranian, Afghan, etc.), Korean, Japanese, Other – Specify.

The mark-in response categories that were listed, with the exception of 'White,' were based on the visible minority groups identified by the Employment Equity Technical Reference Papers, published by Employment and Immigration Canada in 1987, and used for federal employment equity programs. The visible minority groups identified by these papers included: Chinese, South Asian, Black, Filipino, Latin American, Southeast Asian, Arab, West Asian, Korean, Japanese and other visible minority groups, such as Pacific Islanders. Data on other visible minority groups, including Pacific Islanders, are collected in the 'Other – Specify' area of the census population group question and disseminated in a 'Visible minority, n.i.e.' category (n.i.e. means 'not included elsewhere'). After 'White,' population groups were listed in order of the frequency (largest number) of visible minority counts derived from the 2001 Census. A note on the 2006 Census questionnaire informed respondents that this information was collected to support programs that promote equal opportunity for everyone to share in the social, cultural and economic life of Canada.

Persons who report Aboriginal identity in the census are not asked the population group question but are included in the 'Not a visible minority' category in the 'Visible minority population' variable, along with persons reporting other selected population groups such as 'White'.

For additional information on how the 'Visible minority population' variable is derived from the population group question, please refer to the Visible Minority Population and Population Group Reference Guide, 2006 Census, Catalogue no. 97-562-GWE2006003.


The census has been collecting data on religion since 1871. Since this question is asked in decennial censuses (every 10 years), it was last asked in 2001 and was not included on the 2006 Census questionnaire.

Place of birth, place of birth of father, place of birth of mother, generation status, citizenship, landed immigrant status, period of immigration

The place of birth, place of birth of father, place of birth of mother, generation status, citizenship, landed immigrant status and period of immigration variables in the census are a unique source of data on the diversity of Canada's population.

The place of birth question asks for the province or territory in Canada, or the country outside Canada, where people were born. This question provides information on population movements within Canada, and between Canada and other countries. It also provides information about the diversity of Canada's population.

The birthplace of father and mother questions in the census are used to define generation status, that is, 1st generation, 2nd generation or 3rd generation or more. There is growing interest in how children of immigrants are integrating into Canadian society given the fact that an increasing number of immigrants and second generation Canadians are visible minorities. Generation status enhances the information available from the other ethnocultural questions by providing another aspect to the diversity of Canada's population.

Data on citizenship are used to estimate the number of potential voters, to plan citizenship classes and programs and to provide information used to administer pension exchange programs between Canada and other countries. Information is provided on the number of Canadians who have dual citizenship and on the number of immigrants in Canada who hold Canadian citizenship. Over time, this information indicates the acquisition of Canadian citizenship by different immigrant groups.

Information collected in the census questions referring to landed immigrant status and the year of landing is often used in combination with other census data to compare the socio-economic conditions of immigrants over time; to review immigration and employment policies and programs; as well as to plan education, health, and other services.

Since 1991, the census has included both permanent and non-permanent residents of Canada. In the 2006 Census, non-permanent residents are defined as persons from another country who, at the time of the census, held a Work or Study Permit or who were refugee claimants, as well as family members living in Canada with them. In the 1991, 1996 and 2001 censuses, non-permanent residents also included persons who held a Minister's permit; this type of permit was discontinued by Citizenship and Immigration Canada prior to the 2006 Census. Prior to 1991, only permanent residents of Canada were included in the census (the only exception was the 1941 Census).

The non-permanent resident population is identified from responses to the citizenship and landed immigrant status questions. Persons who are not Canadian citizens by birth and who answered ‘No' to the landed immigrant status question are considered non-permanent residents.

For more detailed information on this set of variables, including notes on historical comparability, please consult the 2006 Census Dictionary, Catalogue no. 92-566-XWE.


The Census of Canada complies with United Nations recommendations concerning language questions on its questionnaire. It contains questions on mother tongue (first language learned at home and still understood), language spoken at home, knowledge of official (English and French) and non-official languages, as well as language of work. Every member of the population is asked the question on mother tongue, while the remaining questions are answered by one household in five.

The mother tongue question has existed in its current form since the 1941 Census. Section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms refers to the 'first language learned and still understood' in connection with minority language educational rights. The data on mother tongue serve several purposes, including analysis of the distribution of the population by language group. The 2006 Census provides information about 140 languages and language families.

The question on language spoken at home, which has been asked since 1971 (except in the 1976 Census), yields data that can be used to analyse current language usage in Canada. In 2001, a second part was added to the question, on other languages spoken on a regular basis at home. Coupled with the mother tongue question, it also provides a way of measuring language transfer and retention. A language transfer is said to have taken place when a person reports as his/her home language a language different from his/her mother tongue.

Two questions on language knowledge were asked in 2006. The first question, which has been asked in every census since 1901, deals with knowledge of the official languages, English and French. The data from this question are used primarily to study bilingualism, but also to track changes in the number of persons who cannot carry on a conversation in English or French. The second question, on knowledge of non-official languages, was included for the first time in the 1991 Census questionnaire in order to round out the linguistic profile of Canada's population. Cross-referencing this variable with other language variables results in better measurement of the usage of the various non-official languages in Canada and provides a more precise indication of the level of language retention and transfer affecting each language variable.

The language of work question, asked for the first time in the 2001 Census, was addressed to respondents who were 15 years of age and over, and who had worked since January 1, 2005; they were asked for the language used most often at work during the week that preceded the census. Data on other languages used at work on a regular basis were also collected. The information gathered in response to this question helps assess the use of mother tongue at work by official language minorities and the linguistic integration of non-official language minorities in the labour market.

The demolinguistic information supplied by the census includes one more variable: first official language spoken. Derived from the responses to the questions on knowledge of official languages, mother tongue and language spoken most often at home, this variable is used by the federal government in the official languages regulations pertaining to communications with and services to the public.

Aboriginal peoples

Collage of Aboriginal people

In the 2006 Census, four questions were aimed at identifying Aboriginal peoples. The questions were about ethnic origin/ancestry, Aboriginal identity, Indian band/First Nation membership and Treaty/Registered Indian status (as defined by the Indian Act of Canada).

There are different ways to define the Aboriginal population in Canada. The 2006 Census provides information on persons who reported at least one Aboriginal group to the ethnic origin/ancestry question, as well as information on persons who self-identified with an Aboriginal group. Depending on the application, data on either identity or ethnic origin/ancestry may be appropriate for defining the Aboriginal population.

Aboriginal ancestry

The ethnic origin question provides information on the ethnic or cultural ancestral roots of the Canadian population. The question allows for the identification of individuals who reported at least one Aboriginal ancestry (i.e., North American Indian, Métis or Inuit).

'Aboriginal ancestry' was referred to as 'Aboriginal origin' prior to the 2006 Census. The content of the variable remains unchanged in 2006 compared to previous censuses.

Aboriginal identity

The Aboriginal identity question was asked for the first time in the 1996 Census. It asked the respondent if he/she was an Aboriginal person, i.e., North American Indian, Métis or Inuit. The question is used to provide counts of persons who identify themselves as Aboriginal persons. The concept of 'Aboriginal identity' was first used in the 1991 Aboriginal Peoples Survey.

Member of an Indian band or First Nation

The 2006 Census repeated a question that first appeared in the 1991 Census aimed at identifying members of Canada's approximately 630 Indian bands/First Nations. In 1991, this question was the second part of a two-part question, the first part being a question on registration under the Indian Act of Canada. In 1996, the question on registration was separate, and followed the question on band membership. The Indian band/First Nation membership question first asked respondents if they were members of an Indian Band or First Nation. For those persons who answered 'Yes', a second part to this question asked them to provide the name of the Indian band or First Nation to which they belonged.

Treaty Indian or Registered Indian

The Treaty Indian or Registered Indian status question was introduced for the first time in 1991, and has appeared in a slightly modified format since 1996. Its purpose is to identify Registered and Treaty Indians (as defined by the Indian Act of Canada). Previous censuses used the ethnic origin question to identify the Registered Indian population. For example, the 1961 and 1971 censuses had response categories that included 'Native Indian: band member or non-band member'; the 1981 Census had 'status or Registered Indian and non-status Indian'; and the 1986 Census introduced an Aboriginal status question to identify the Registered Indian population, but data quality problems prevented the release of the data. Published counts of the 1986 Aboriginal population were based on the ethnic origin question, and did not distinguish between Registered Indians and non-status Indians.



The first census information on education—counts of schools and pupils—was collected in the 1827 Census of Lower Canada and the 1842 Census of Upper Canada. The census continues to collect information about education because the subject is closely tied to two important aspects of Canadian society. Quality of life, particularly in areas such as literacy, health, community participation, work and income, is one factor, the knowledge and skills available in the labour force, which affect Canada's economic performance, another.

Although the education questions in the census have changed little over the years, the education systems in each of the provincial and territorial education jurisdictions have undergone fundamental changes. At the same time, the technological revolution created new fields of study and Canada's increasing reliance on skilled immigrants for population growth has impacted the issues, policies and programs in the education domain.

After extended nation-wide consultations and testing, the questions on education were revised for the 2006 Census to make the information collected more pertinent to the twenty-first century. The following explanations refer to this new information.

School attendance

Information on school attendance is collected in the census (Question 32) to measure access to, and participation in, Canada's education systems. Respondents are asked if they attended school in the nine months before Census Day and, if so, what type of school they attended. They can select one of the following responses: attended elementary, junior high or high school; attended trade school, college, CEGEP or other non-university institution; attended university; or did not attend school.

A young schoolgirl writes on a blackboard.

Responses to this question provide data on the proportions of the population who attend the various types of schools by age and sex for each province or territory. It also provides school attendance information for specific populations of interest (e.g., the disabled, immigrants, or retirees). Departments of education, school boards and postsecondary institutions use this information to understand the demand for education services and the changing patterns of participation over time.

The attendance question also helps determine which populations are not attending school, permitting additional analysis on access and participation. Such factors as the impact of geography on school attendance (e.g., differences in participation in rural versus urban populations at the postsecondary level) can be assessed through this question. Once information is available that identifies these kinds of situations, federal and provincial/territorial governments can develop policies and programs to address them.

Given that respondents are asked to mark all response categories that are applicable, the new question on school attendance takes into account changes that took place in the education system at the end of the twentieth century (e.g., December graduations and January enrolments). As well, information is provided that shows the educational pathway choices that students make, when the type of school attended is examined in light of the level of education already completed. Education institutions and governments can use this information to understand the demand for, and participation in, the various levels of education in Canada.

Completed certificates, diplomas and degrees

Three people ride a toboggan down a hill.

Respondents to the census long form are asked to indicate all certificates, diplomas and degrees they have completed through a series of four questions (Questions 26, 27, 28, 29). They cover the high school, trade school, college, CEGEP, other non-university and university levels of education. Census respondents can select more than one response so the information collected includes all completed certificates, diplomas and degrees for each respondent.

From this series of questions, it is possible to identify the proportions of the population who have completed each of the various levels of educational attainment. The resulting information is an indicator of the stock of skills and knowledge in the population aged 15 years and older in Canada. It also indicates the changing demand for certain levels of programs over time. Governments can use this information to formulate policies in areas such as adult education, student loan programs, and the location of postsecondary institutions. Researchers can also use these data to understand factors related to access, persistence and completion—all key issues in education.

A profile of educational attainment for the Canadian population is an important element in labour market participation and productivity. All levels of government have emphasized the need for information on high school and postsecondary completions. These data provide a way for them to: understand the relationship between health and education; examine the relationship between education and civic participation; examine the relationships between education and employment, occupation and income and forecast occupational imbalances; and guide immigration policies. Overall, these data help governments and Canadians assess the effectiveness of Canada's education systems.

The profile of the education levels of the Canadian population that is produced using census data is also used by the Canadian government and international bodies such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). At this international level, Canada's education profile can be compared with that of other countries.

Field of study

The field of study information collected in the census (Question 30) refers to the area of specialization of the highest certificate, diploma or degree completed beyond the high school level (e.g., plumbing at the trades level, medical laboratory technician at the college level, or architecture at the university level). The classification structure used to code the field of study, the Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP), new in the 2006 Census, has over 1,400 categories. It permits a detailed understanding of the change in student study choices over time by the level of education completed. Postsecondary institutions use these data to assess the need for various fields of study within their programs, plan courses, and hire staff accordingly.

These data also enable labour market analysis that compares changes in specializations over time as a reflection of, and contributor to, the demand and supply of differing skills in the labour market. Only a survey the size of the census can provide enough geographic and field of study detail for national and regional labour market and occupational forecasting research and planning.

Location of study

This question, which asks respondents to identify the province/territory or country where they completed their highest certificate, diploma or degree, was added to the census for 2006 (Question 31). The data provide insight into the various transitions to the labour market by levels of educational attainment from a geographic and mobility perspective. This is an important consideration in today's globalized economy and labour market. As well, being able to compare the labour market success of immigrants according to the countries where their education was completed adds to our understanding of the integration of this population into the Canadian labour market. This is important for the development of social policy related to immigrants, immigration and the labour market.

Unpaid work

A three-part question was asked of respondents in the 2006 Census, dealing with hours spent in the week preceding Census Day on unpaid housework, looking after children without pay and providing unpaid care or assistance to seniors. This question was first asked in the 1996 Census.

Hours spent by the respondent on unpaid housework also include hours spent on unpaid yard work or home maintenance. Some examples of these activities include preparing meals, washing the car, doing laundry, cutting the grass, shopping and household planning. Hours spent looking after children without pay include hours spent caring for the respondent's own children or someone else's children. Some examples of unpaid care or assistance to seniors include providing personal care and helping with shopping, banking or administering medication. Seniors were defined in the Census Guide as all persons 65 years of age and over and some individuals, close to the age of 65, suffering from age-related disabilities.

Respondents were instructed not to include, in any of the three parts of the census question, hours spent doing volunteer work for a non-profit or religious organization, charity or community group. On the other hand, hours of overlapping unpaid activities were to be reported in each part of the question, as applicable. For example, a respondent who spent one hour preparing a meal while looking after his/her own children, was instructed to report one hour of unpaid housework and one hour of unpaid child care.

A tree’s branch is as delicate as crystal after being coated by freezing rain.

Labour market activities

Labour market activities data from the census can be divided into three groups:

  • labour force activity data for the week preceding Census Day, also known as 'census reference week' (for example, employed, unemployed, not in the labour force, unemployment rate, participation rate and employment rate)
  • data relating to work activity in the calendar year preceding the census year (for example, number of weeks worked and whether mostly full-time or mostly part-time)
  • job characteristics describing a person's current position or the position of the longest duration since January 1, 2005 (for example, industry, occupation and class of worker).

Labour force activity

Labour force activity data divide the population aged 15 and over, excluding institutional residents, into the following three mutually exclusive categories: employed, unemployed, and not in the labour force. These categories were divided into more detailed groupings. For example, the employed are divided into those who worked and those who had a job but were absent in the week preceding Census Day. For persons not in the labour force, one can distinguish between those who had worked since January 1, 2005, those who had worked only prior to January 1, 2005, and those who had never worked (see Figure 8).

Figure 8 Population and labour force activity components, 2006 Census

The census definitions of 'employed', 'unemployed' and 'not in the labour force' are comparable to those used for the Labour Force Survey (LFS), which is the source of the monthly unemployment rate and other labour force data. The LFS produces current labour market data. The census can provide detailed cross-tabulations of labour, job characteristics, or other census variables not collected in the LFS. The census can also provide this information for small geographic areas.

The following should be noted:

  1. The 'employed' includes all persons who worked one hour or more for pay or in self-employment during the week preceding the census. It includes all persons working for wages or salaries, all self-employed persons (with or without paid help) working in their own businesses, professional practices or on their own farms, as well as all persons working without pay on a family farm, in a family business or professional practice. Also included are the persons who were temporarily absent from their jobs or businesses for the entire week because of vacation, illness, a labour dispute at their place of work or other reasons.
  2. 'Worked for pay or in self-employment' includes all persons working for wages or salaries, all self-employed persons (with or without paid help) working in their own businesses, professional practices or on their own farms, and all persons working without pay on a family farm, business or professional practice during the reference week. It does not include unpaid housework, unpaid child care, unpaid care to seniors or volunteer work.
  3. Persons were 'unemployed' if they were not employed during the reference week, but were searching for a job in the past four weeks, waiting for recall from a temporary lay-off or waiting to begin a new job that started within the next four weeks. To be counted as unemployed, a person must have been available for work in the reference week.
  4. The 'labour force' includes the employed and the unemployed. The ‘experienced labour force' includes the employed and the unemployed who last worked either in 2005 or in 2006. The 'inexperienced labour force' includes the unemployed who last worked before January 1, 2005, or who never worked.
  5. The 'unemployment rate' is the unemployed expressed as a percentage of the labour force. The ‘participation rate' is the labour force expressed as a percentage of the population aged 15 and over, excluding institutional residents. The ‘employment rate', formerly called the 'employment-population ratio', is the employed expressed as a percentage of the population aged 15 and over, excluding institutional residents.
  6. The category 'not in the labour force' includes persons aged 15 and over, excluding institutional residents, who did not satisfy the definition of the employed or unemployed, and were therefore not part of the labour force. Persons in this category include students, homemakers, retired workers, seasonal workers in an 'off' season who were not looking for work, and persons who could not work because of a long-term illness or disability.

Work activity

An oil-well derrick pictured on a cloudy day.

'Work activity' refers to the number of weeks in which a person worked for pay or in self-employment in 2005, at all jobs held, and whether these weeks were mostly full-time (30 hours or more) or mostly part-time (1 to 29 hours). Data are available for persons aged 15 and over, excluding institutional residents.

The term 'full-year, full-time workers' refers to persons aged 15 and over, excluding institutional residents, who worked 49 to 52 weeks (mostly full time) in 2005, for pay or in self-employment.

Job characteristics

Job characteristics were collected for persons who worked any time from January 1, 2005, to the census reference week. Job characteristics include industry, occupation and class of worker.

  1. The first job characteristic, industry, describes the economic sector of the employer (for example, manufacturing or retail trade). These descriptions are assigned a code from the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) 2002, which contains over 300 industry groups with higher-level 'roll-ups', such as subsectors and sectors. The NAICS 2002 is a revision of the NAICS 1997 used to classify industry data in the 2001 Census. In order to compare 2006 and 2001 data, adjustments to both industry classifications are necessary.
  2. The second job characteristic, occupation, describes the kind of work performed by Canadians. The 2006 Census occupation data are classified according to the National Occupational Classification for Statistics (NOC‑S) 2006. The NOC-S 2006 is a minor update to the NOC-S 2001 used to classify occupation data in the 2001 Census. Occupation data from the 2001 and 2006 censuses are directly comparable. The NOC-S 2006 contains over 500 unit groups which roll up to 140 minor groups, 47 major groups, and 10 broad categories. The NOC-S 2006 is a revision of the 1991 Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) used to classify occupation data in the 1996 and 1991 censuses. In order to compare 2006 and/or 2001 data with 1996 and 1991 data, adjustments to both occupational classifications are necessary.
  3. The third job characteristic, class of worker, distinguishes between people who worked for others (paid workers), those who worked for themselves, and unpaid family workers. Traditionally, owners of incorporated businesses have been treated as paid workers (since they were technically employees of their own business), but some data users prefer to have them grouped with the remaining self-employed, i.e., those who have not been incorporated. Census data users can decide which presentation is appropriate to their needs.

When analysing data on industry and occupation, data users can define the target population in different categories:

  • the employed
  • the experienced labour force, i.e., persons who were either employed or unemployed in the reference week but who had worked since January 1, 2005
  • those who have worked since January 1, 2005, regardless of whether they were in the labour force in the reference week.

Caution should be exercised when relating 'industry' and 'occupation' to variables such as 2005 work activity and 2005 employment income. If, for example, a person has changed jobs, the occupation and industry data reported for the reference week may differ from those for which the respondent reported work activity and income for 2005.

Figure 8 Population and labour force activity components, 2006 Census

Place of work

A large proportion of the Canadian labour force commutes between home and work. Data on place of work are being used increasingly to develop a clearer picture of the commuting phenomenon and its impact on urban life. The data are also used in analysing local and regional commuting patterns, public transportation requirements and energy consumption. They are also of particular importance in the study of the differential growth rates of industrialization within regions and the dispersion and decentralization of workers from the core to the periphery of urban areas.

Regional development planners and the business community use place of work data and the resulting commuting flows to establish the extent of labour markets and to analyse the distribution of industries across regions. Place of work data also provides analysts with information on the proportion of jobs held by local residents and by in-commuters.

Accessing census data by place of work provides a unique source of daytime demographic and socio-economic information, useful in locating public services such as colleges, libraries, day care and recreation facilities. In combining place of work data with other census data, analysts can identify concentrations of professionals, part-time workers or other segments of the labour force of interest to business owners who can then locate retail and service outlets, not where the population lives, but where it works.

This variable is defined as the location of work of non-institutional residents aged 15 and over who held a job the week prior to Census Day. However, if the person had not worked that week, the information relates to the job of longest duration since January 1, 2005.

The 'Place of work' question contains four response categories:

  • worked at home: respondent worked at his/her place of residence
  • worked outside Canada: respondent worked outside the country
  • no fixed workplace address: respondent worked at various locations
  • worked at usual location: respondent worked at a specific location.

In the 2006 Census, place of work data were geocoded to the submunicipal level (i.e., block-face, dissemination block and dissemination area representative points).

Mode of transportation

A few people converge on a subway car.

In 2006, for the third consecutive census, a question on mode of transportation to work was asked in order to provide urban planners and transportation engineers with a better understanding of the commuting habits of the labour force. Analysts can now investigate shifts between public and private transportation and changes in the popularity of cycling and walking to work.

Since the data show local and regional commuter flows, they allow provincial, regional and municipal urban planners and engineers to analyse traffic patterns, assess the need for transportation networks and plan modifications to existing transportation systems.

The 'Mode of transportation' question contained eight response categories of usual mode for transportation to work:

  • car, truck or van, as driver
  • car, truck or van, as passenger
  • public transit
  • walk to work
  • bicycle
  • motorcycle
  • taxicab
  • another method.


The 2006 Census Dictionary defines numerous income variables relating to individuals, families and households. Figure 6 lists the components of total income in 2005. The amount of income tax paid was asked for the first time in the 2006 Census. This new variable permits the derivation of after-tax income, which, like total income, is one indicator of economic well-being. Analysis of census income data can be undertaken in a number of ways:

  1. Since the census database contains the actual income of individuals, families and households, users can define income classes for an analysis of income distributions and income inequality. As is the case with income groups, individuals, families and households can be divided into equal groups such as quintiles or deciles, and their comparative position analysed.
  2. Summary measures such as average and median incomes can easily be obtained for different segments of the population.
  3. Detailed analysis can be undertaken for specific groups. For example, analysis of 2001 Census data revealed that the average earnings, in 2000, of persons who immigrated to Canada prior to 1980 and had earnings, were about 30% higher than the overall earnings of non-immigrants. Much of this advantage can be traced to differences in age and educational attainment of these immigrant groups.
  4. The role played by various sources of income can be analysed by examining the income composition of a given group—women, the elderly, husband-wife families, etc. Alternatively, one can look at the major source of income, which identifies the source or combination of sources that account for most of a person's or family's income.
  5. Financial returns to education and training and the comparative earning position of men and women can be analysed by examining employment income for various education and occupation groups.
  6. Income status of families, persons not in economic families or the population in selected regions of the country can be analysed in relation to Statistics Canada's low income cut-offs before and after tax.

Users of census income statistics must also decide:

  • Does the unit of analysis pertain to individuals, census or economic families, or households?
  • Will the existing concept be used or does it need to be redefined?
  • Will income statistics from previous censuses or other sources be compared?
  • Would total income or after-tax income measures better illustrate the issue?

Census income data can be tabulated for individuals, census families, economic families and households. Users also have the flexibility to define their own analytical units. Several income concept options are at their disposal: total income, after-tax income (for 2005 only), total income excluding one or more sources, market income, earnings, joint income or earnings of spouses, and so on.

Once conceptual and coverage differences have been accounted for, income data from different censuses can be compared by converting them into comparable (constant) dollars. The Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics (SLID), in addition to providing longitudinal income data, provides a useful source of intercensal cross-classified income estimates.

Figure 6 Components of income in 2005

Families and households

Family and household data are important in understanding a population's socio-economic and cultural characteristics. Canadian families have undergone rapid changes in the past few decades, and census data provide a statistical base for studying those changes.

Users of family and household data may encounter the following problems:

  1. Family and household variables can seem cumbersome; it is very difficult to translate complex human relationships into tables. Users should consult the 2006 Census Dictionary and keep in mind the broad objectives underlying the family and household variables.
  2. Users often want to analyse family and household data together with characteristics pertaining to individuals. Except for the income question, none of the census questions relating directly to individuals can be aggregated into family or household responses. Statistics Canada does not aggregate family data by mother tongue, for example. However, special tabulations based on user-defined methods can be produced. For instance, one could tabulate families by the mother tongue of one family member, for instance the spouse or lone parent. The same thing can be done at the household level using the primary household maintainer. One could also select a variable such as census family status, whose unit of measurement is 'individuals' rather than 'families'. This variable shows the individual's situation within the family—spouse, common-law partner, child, and so on. Such a variable can be cross-tabulated quite easily with mother tongue, which is also an individual characteristic.

People living in the same dwelling are considered a census family only if they meet the following conditions: they are spouses or common-law partners (of either opposite or same sex), with or without children at home, or a lone parent with at least one child at home. The census family includes all persons related by blood, stepsons and stepdaughters and adopted sons and daughters who live in the same dwelling, as well as grandchildren in households where there are no parents present. Sons and daughters who are living with their spouses or common-law partners, or with one or more of their own children, are not considered to be members of their parent's or parents' census family, even if they are living in the same dwelling. It is also possible for two census families to live in the same dwelling, though they may or may not be related to each other.

An economic family, on the other hand, includes all persons related by blood, marriage, common-law or adoption, and living in the same dwelling. For example, a brother and a sister living together would constitute an economic family, but not a census family.

The household is the broadest concept, encompassing all persons living in the same dwelling, whether they are related or not. Figure 14 shows the relationship between households, economic families and census families.

With the general decline in household size, there is a growing interest in the problems and advantages of living alone. Figure 14 shows that there are three ways of defining a target population for a study of this issue. The narrowest definition would be ‘persons living alone'—in other words, one-person households. The second definition is 'persons not in economic families', which includes persons living alone and persons living with others to whom they are not related. The third and least restrictive definition is 'persons not in census families', which includes persons not in economic families and persons who live with relatives but are not part of a census family.

One variable, 'income', is often used in the analysis of families and households, but it stands apart from the other variables because it lends itself to analysis based on individuals, families or households. If income data are used to study aspects of employment, the individual is the appropriate unit. In an analysis of economic well-being, on the other hand, the family is important. The decision whether to use the economic family concept or the census family concept usually depends on the assumptions made regarding income sharing.

The full range of census variables for families and households is described in the 2006 Census Dictionary.

A number of variables listed in the 2006 Census Dictionary under the 'household' category refer not only to the individuals composing a household, but also to the structure in which they live. They include all variables related to shelter costs—gross rent and monthly cash rent, owner's major payments and home ownership. Users interested in housing data should keep this source of data in mind.

Figure 14 Economic and census family membership and family status


The census counts dwellings for two main purposes. The first is to associate people with a spatial unit; otherwise, it would be impossible to enumerate people only once. The second objective is to publish counts of the dwellings themselves, along with information about dwelling characteristics.

A dwelling is a separate set of living quarters with a private entrance from the outside, from a common hallway, or from a stairway inside the building. The entrance should not be through someone else's living quarters.

The 2006 Census Dictionary contains descriptions of a range of housing variables that can be used to characterize the housing stock at fine levels of geographic detail. All housing information for 2006, with the exception of structural type data, is based on sample data. The database holds information on structural type, period of construction and condition of dwelling; these variables are essential in order to evaluate the quality of Canada's housing stock and assess the need for neighbourhood improvement programs. In addition, these variables and others, such as number of rooms, number of bedrooms and value of dwelling, are used by municipal planners, provincial housing ministries, developers, construction companies and real estate firms.

Figure 19 shows the complete classification of dwellings as well as the progression from the census questionnaire definition to the definition underlying housing stock estimates. The first step in the progression is the distinction between collective and private dwellings; data on dwelling characteristics are collected only for occupied private dwellings. A collective dwelling is any set of living quarters that can be clearly identified as communal (rooming houses), institutional (jails, hospitals) or commercial (hotels) in nature, regardless of the number of occupants.

Figure 19 2006 Dwelling universe

As shown in Figure 19, private dwellings are divided into two categories: ‘regular' and 'occupied marginal'. A regular dwelling is suitable for permanent year-round living; marginal dwellings (including cottages not suitable for year-round use) are listed only if occupied. Dwellings whose occupants are foreign or temporary residents are listed, but no data on dwelling characteristics are collected, whether they are regular dwellings or not.

Institutions and other collectives

The census also provides counts of collective dwellings by type. 'Institutional collectives' include establishments for children and minors, general hospitals, nursing care homes, other hospitals and related institutions, facilities for the disabled, correctional and penal institutions, young offenders' facilities and jails, shelters for vagrants, other shelters and lodging with assistance.

'Non-institutional collectives' include hotels, motels and tourist homes, lodging and rooming houses, senior citizens' homes, school residences and residences for training centres, other temporary accommodations, campgrounds and parks, work camps, religious establishments, Hutterite colonies, military bases, merchant and coast guard vessels, naval vessels and other collectives.

The 2006 Census Dictionary provides a definition for every type of institutional and non-institutional collective dwelling.

The distinction between institutions and other collectives may seem ambiguous. For example, halfway houses operated by private companies are considered rooming or boarding houses, while government-run halfway houses that provide special services such as care for drug addicts or alcoholics, or rehabilitation of persons released from a penal institution, are deemed to be institutions.

Like private dwellings, collectives may be occupied by usual or temporary and foreign residents. In addition, institutional collectives may be occupied by institutional residents, live-in staff, or both.


The Participation and Activity Limitation Survey (PALS), formerly known as the Health and Activity Limitation Survey (HALS), is designed to collect data on persons with disabilities.

The PALS is a postcensal survey, was conducted following the 2006 Census as it was after the 2001 Census. The HALS was first conducted after the 1986 Census, and repeated after the 1991 Census. It was not conducted after the 1996 Census due to budget constraints.

The PALS identifies Canadians with an activity limitation, the impact of these activity limitations on their daily lives, and the barriers to full participation that they face. As for the previous postcensal survey (HALS), the survey frame for the PALS is provided by the answers to two filter questions on the census questionnaire.

The same filter questions were used in 1986, 1991 and 1996, and asked if the person was limited in activities at home, at school or at work, or in other activities. The person was also asked if he/she had any long-term disabilities or handicaps.

The 2006 Census uses the disability filter questions that were developed for the 2001 Census, which were different from the filter questions used in the previous censuses. Results for the 1998 National Census Test showed that these new questions allowed for the selection of a larger portion of the target population. The new questions asked about difficulty in daily activities, activity reduction at home and at work or school, and other activities. The 'yes' answer category was split into two possibilities: 'yes, sometimes' and 'yes, often'.

The PALS is the primary source for disability data in 2006, as it provides a better identification of the population of persons with disabilities, and more detailed information on the population's characteristics. Disability data from the 2006 Census are available by special request only. The 2006 Census disability data were subjected to minimum edits and should be used with caution.

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