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Canadian Census of Families

Canadian census families are divided into those formed by couples and those headed by a single parent. Married couples and common-law couples are considered families whether or not they have never-married sons or daughters living with them. Now-married and common-law couples together comprise husband-wife families.

A single parent, of any marital status, living with one or more never-married sons or daughters, also constitutes a family.

Never-married sons and/or daughters are blood, step or adopted sons and daughters who have never married (regardless of age) and who are living with their parent(s). In this release, the terms "child" and "children" refer to these never-married sons and/or daughters living with their parent(s), regardless of age.

Statistics Canada released data on marital status, common-law unions and families from the 1996 Census, the third of 11 announcements that are painting a new statistical portrait of the nation. This release describes how our families are changing and where children fit into the evolving family structures.

The data, collected on May 14, 1996, show further changes in the makeup of Canadian families during the past five years. In 1996, common-law and single parent families together made up over one-quarter (26%) of all families in Canada, compared to a fifth (20%) a decade ago. Between 1991 and 1996, the number of lone-parent families increased 19%, compared to 28% for common-law families and 1.7% for married couple families.

Married couple families still constituted the large majority of families. Since 1986, the proportion has declined from 80% of all families to 74%, due to substantial increases in both common-law and single parent families.

Between 1991 and 1996 the rate of increase in common-law families was about 16 times that for married couple families.

As of the 1996 Census, there were 1.1 million single parent families. Since 1991, they have increased at four times the rate of husband-wife families. Lone-parent families headed by women continued to outnumber those headed by men by more than four to one.

Between 1991 and 1996, the number of children living in families increased 6.3%. There was almost no increase in children living in families of married couples, in contrast to strong growth among children who lived with common-law couples (+52%) and single parents (+19%). Almost one in every five children in Canada lived with a single parent in 1996.

Overall, the total number of families in Canada increased 6.6% to 7.8 million between 1991 and 1996. This was a more moderate pace than the growth rate of 9.2% in the previous five-year period. This slower growth was the result of people waiting longer to either marry or enter a common-law union. In addition, there was a higher proportion of separated, divorced or widowed individuals who were not living as part of a couple at the time of the Census.

The proportion of the population living in families, which had been declining since 1971 when it was 89%, remained stable between 1991 and 1996 (84%). Since the 1986 Census, the average family size has remained at 3.1 persons. In 1971, by comparison, it was 3.7 persons.

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