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Growing number of young Canadians remain single

  • November 30, 2018

OTTAWA – Most young Canadians aged 20-34 are neither married nor co-habitating, and the proportion of those remaining alone is growing, according to a new study by Cardus.

Some young Catholics in the Ottawa area suspect high social expectations around lavish wedding ceremonies, social media and uncertain job prospects may play a role in the situation.

In a study examining Census data from 1996 to 2016, entitled “Living la Vida Lonely: Marriage and Partnership Among Canadian Young Adults,” author Peter John Mitchell says the Cardus data shows a “steady decline in partnerships occurring over decades.”

“The portion of young adults who are in co-habiting relationships has been increasing but not as quickly as the married portion has been declining,” said Mitchell, a senior researcher at Cardus Family.

In the 20-34 age group, the number of singles has risen from 52.5 per cent to 58.8 per cent, while the number of married Canadians has dropped from 33.2 per cent to 22.8 per cent from 1996 to 2016.  Common law partnerships have risen in that time from 14.3 per cent to 18.5 per cent.

Mitchell points out that age 24 used to be the norm for marrying in Canada. “Today, marriage has all but disappeared among Canadians ages 20 to 24, with only 3.7 per cent reporting being married in the 2016 Census.”

For people ages 20-24, 85.5 per cent remain single as of 2016, compared to 78.7 per cent in 1996. Statistics Canada shows 62.6 per cent live with at least one parent, up from 58.3 per cent in 2001.

Michael Trolly, 34, and his wife Rebecca, 30, defied the trend and married eight years ago. They now have two children, one nearly six, the other nearly two.

Michael believes a trend mitigating against marriage, even among committed common law couples, is the pressure and social expectation to have fancy, expensive weddings. 

The Trollys had a simple wedding, but three different receptions because Rebecca’s family lives in the United States. Rebecca says they spent only $1,500 on everything, including the cake and the dress, because they kept things simple. 

Andrew Carvalho, 41, believes he has a vocation to marriage, but has yet to settle down with a spouse.

“For me personally, I believe it’s financial,” he said, noting that while trained as a nurse, he has to juggle part-time and casual employment. “Financially, I want to be stable.”

He supplements his income driving Uber. 

Kevin Geenan, 19, in his second year at University of Ottawa studying communications, believes there are many factors and cultural trends that affect reasons for marrying or remaining single. One factor is social media and smartphone use.

“On social media, people are so fixed on creating this perfect image of themselves,” he said. “People are very caught up in this myth of perfection and I think that prevents real relationships from forming.”

An interesting finding of the study is that even those in the 25-29 age range are delaying marriage.

“Young adults between ages 25 and 29 were in the prime age range for marriage in 1996 when nearly 36 per cent of the cohort were married,” Mitchell writes. That has fallen to about 21 per cent, he said.

“Young adults in this age group are now more likely to cohabit than be married, a change that occurred between 2011 and 2016,” he said. “A full 23 per cent of 25- to 29-year-olds were in cohabiting relationships in 2016 compared to about 17 per cent in 1996.”

The trend is similar for 30- to 34-year-olds, where marriage has declined 20 per cent over a 20-year period, Mitchell reports. “During the same period, the portion of 30- to 34-year-olds who cohabit increased from 14.1 per cent to 21.5 per cent,” he said.

“The majority of young adults in this age group are partnered (65.2 per cent), but the portion of non-married, non-cohabiting people in this age cohort has gradually increased from 31.3 per cent in 1996 to 34.8 per cent in 2016,” he said.

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