The Canadian household is changing: More single dads, more same-sex parents, fewer young families

Click to play video: 'Census 2016: Everything you need to know about languages, households and marital status'
Census 2016: Everything you need to know about languages, households and marital status
WATCH: Everything you need to know about languages, households and marital status. – Aug 2, 2017

Canada is home to more single-person households, more single dads and more same-sex parents than ever before, new census data reveals.

The latest release of detailed census information from Statistics Canada landed on Wednesday in Ottawa, more than a year after 35 million Canadians were obliged to fill out a questionnaire. The response rate was over 98 per cent, giving the agency the richest, most complete data set in over a decade.

The newest results reveal a host of patterns linked to an increasingly diverse family life in Canada. While traditional family units (couples with or without kids) still dominate, there have been significant shifts in the first two decades of this new century.

Here are a few of the biggest ones.

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Singles on the rise, young families becoming less common

Some of the most fundamental changes have been linked to the basic composition of a typical household.

The census found that the number of single-person households is on the rise in a major way.

Singles accounted for 28.2 per cent of all households across the country last year, the highest share since Confederation. For the first time, this is now the most common type of household in Canada, surpassing even couples with children (26.5 per cent).

This is likely due to a combination of factors like Canada’s aging population, better pensions, an increased number of women in the workforce and higher divorce or separation rates, according to Statistics Canada.

Meanwhile, the number of young adults (aged 20-34) who have moved out of their childhood home and formed their own family unit – without their parents – has dropped. In fact, it fell a full seven percentage points in 15 years, from about 49 per cent in 2001 to 42 per cent in 2016.

When you break it down to just young adults living away from their parents who now have their own children, the proportion decreased from 33 per cent in 2001 to 25.5 per cent in 2016.

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Overall, fewer Canadian couples – both in older and younger cohorts – had children living with them in 2016 (51 per cent) compared to five years earlier (56.7 per cent).

“And one-fifth of the couples in Canada are living common-law, so this is three times more than what was observed in 1981,” noted Jonathan Chagnon, senior analyst in Statistics Canada’s demography division.

More single parents, more single dads

The number of Canadian children growing up in a single-parent household has increased over the last 15 years, but only slightly. From 2001 to 2016, the percentage of children aged 0 to 14 living with one parent rose from 17.8 per cent to 19.2 per cent. The older a child got, the more likely they were to find themselves being raised by a single mom or dad.

Geography also made a difference. Kids in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut and the Yukon were statistically more likely to be growing up in a single-parent household, the census found.

A full quarter (26 per cent) of Nova Scotian children were in this situation, for instance. That’s seven points higher than the national average.

But one of the most striking patterns in the data was linked to single Canadian fathers.

The number of children living with just their dad grew much faster (up 34.5 per cent since 2001) than the number of those living with a lone mother (up 4.8 per cent).

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“This difference partly reflects the increasing acknowledgement of the role of fathers and their parental responsibilities in Canadian society and the legal system,” Statistics Canada noted in a summary of the findings.

“In the event of a breakup, fathers are increasingly being awarded joint custody of their children.”

Single dads tended to be most common in Nunavut and Quebec, but they are still the minority in every jurisdiction. Overall in 2016, eight in ten children in lone-parent families were living with their mother, and two in ten were living with their father.

Spike in same-sex couples

Canada’s increasingly visible LGBTQ population was the focus of intense data crunching by Statistics Canada this time around.

Wednesday’s results reveal that a third of the 72,880 same-sex couples across the country in 2016 were married, and 12 per cent had kids (representing 10,020 children in total). That’s a significant jump from the 8.6 per cent who were raising children in 2001.

In four out of five of the families with kids, the couple was female, the census found.


In the decade between 2006 and 2016, the overall number of same-sex couples recorded by the census jumped a whopping 61 per cent.

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However, same-sex couples in Canada still represent just 0.9 per cent of all Canadian couples who are married or in a common-law partnership. (In Australia, it was 0.7 per cent as of 2011 and in the United Kingdom, it was the same at 0.9 in 2016.)

The census revealed that same-sex unions remain quite concentrated geographically. About half of these couples made their homes in just four big cities: Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal or Ottawa-Gatineau.

Way more multigenerational households

The last big trend is linked to multigenerational households, which include at least three generations under one roof.

From 2001 to 2016, the percentage of multigenerational households in Canada grew by a staggering 37.5 per cent – more rapidly than any other household type. Overall, in 2016, 2.2 million Canadians were living in this type of household, representing 6.3 per cent of the total population.

“This is still a low number … it still remains a small proportion of the households,” Chagnon noted.

“It’s observed everywhere, but we see it mainly in British Columbia and Ontario … it can be a cultural difference, as these two areas have had a lot of immigration in the past.”

Chagnon added that the challenges of breaking into the red-hot housing markets in those two regions may also be playing a significant role.

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