“Family.” The word itself draws powerful memories and connections from within our hearts. For many, the experience of family is warm and cherished, based on sharing the milestones of life in a loving and supporting relationship. For some, the recollections are less positive: emotional or physical distance, missed opportunities, unrealized dreams. In all of this, though, for good or ill, “family” remains a cornerstone of our experience as individuals.
The word “family” is also an important part of our corporate experience. Governments have ministries of “Family Services”. Political parties campaign on the basis of “family-friendly policies.” And many groups—Focus on the Family included—exist to provide information and support to families according to their views of the world.
It is clear that Canadians care deeply about their families. Yet what do Canadians understand by this term “family” that so frequently comes at us from these many directions? Is there a shared understanding? What views are commonly held on family related issues, and how are they changing?'
Certainly, “the Canadian family” has been going through much change in recent years. The rapid emergence of “alternative family structures” in preference to the “traditional family”—a married husband and wife living with children—is readily apparent. The 1996 census data from Statistics Canada, the most recent available, underlines this change:1
- Between 1991 and 1996, common law families grew by 28% to represent 11.7% of all Canadian families.
- The number of common law families with children grew 47.2% over that period, although they still only account for 5.5% of all families.
- 'Single parent families increased by 19.3% between 1991 and 1996 and now represent 14.5% of all families.
- In 1996, 22% of single parents had never been married, up from 14% in 1986 and 17% in 1991.
None of these family structures is new, and they have always been part of our community make up. To an unprecedented extent, however, people are living in households that are not based around a married husband and wife with children. And the speed with which these alternative household structures have emerged and the significant percentage of people living in them represents a striking and undeniable change in Canada’s social landscape.
Yet, at the same time, these changes point to an enduring —though less publicized—reality of Canadian family life. The fact is, the “traditional” family structure remains the environment for most Canadians. Here are other facts:
- Although down slightly from 1991, married couples still constitute the large majority of Canadian families—73.7%, or 5,779,720 families.2
- 73.3% of children live in families of married couples.3
- 75.7% of children under age 12 live with both their parents and siblings from the same relationship.4
Thus, perhaps, the more things change, the more they remain the same. For now, at least—the shape of things to come depends on the attitudes of Canadians. And that is what this report seeks to explore.
Download the full report below