After years of decline, the number of two-parent families has stabilized in Canada. OSV News photo/courtesy Kristi Smith

Two-parent family numbers stabilize in Canada

  • March 17, 2023

Sixty per cent of Canadian children are being raised in homes with married parents, a new study has found, a number that has stayed steady since 2016 after years of decline.

The non-partisan think tank Cardus analyzed previously unreleased data from the 2021 Statistics Canada census to uncover that six-in-10 children live in married-parent families. That’s still down from the 73.1 per cent of children from newborn to 14 that lived in such an arrangement in 1996 and had been on a steady decline until levelling off in 2016.

Peter Jon Mitchell, director of Cardus’ family program, authored the report Canadian Children at Home: Living Arrangements in the 2021 Census. He summarized this finding as “surprising and positive.” Still, he noted this data was collected amid the COVID-19 pandemic, so he will be looking to see if this stabilizing trend carries over to 2026.

Mitchell explained the benefits afforded to children with a married father and mother. 

“There has certainly been a lot of data collected over the past 20, or even 30 years that correlates the stability of a married-parent family with positive outcomes, especially regarding areas like education, happiness and behavioural development,” said Mitchell. “Of course, great kids grow up in all kinds of families. This data we collect speak of broad trends, not particular children.”

There’s no denying the benefits to children of growing up with married parents in the home, he said.

“The data shows correlations between marriage and better health, recovery from disease and better diagnosis of disease because you are likely to go to the doctor sooner when your partner prompts you,” said Mitchell. “You also see the benefits of building social capital and the economic advantages of combining incomes and leveraging more funds toward savings. We see all these benefits more commonly with married-parent families than common-law families.”

In a time when governments are so concerned with growing inequality, Mitchell argued that “governments should consider family structure when discussing inequality and children’s wellbeing” and that given the benefits, “governments concerned about inequality should address barriers preventing young adults from forming stable marriages and families.”

Mitchell said that marriage “should be seen as a social good” and believes religious institutions have a role to play in propagating this message. 

“Churches should support the understanding of marriage being a public good, so there is a more widespread appreciation for marriage. It has benefits for children and also better outcomes for adults.

If parents effectively exemplify Catholic-Christian teachings, said Gisele Murphy, a cognitive behavioural therapist with Catholic Family Services Simcoe County, all the better. 

“Studies state that in any healthy family relationship where there is respect and harmony because of the way each of the members works together, if religious beliefs are a part of that environment, yes (it will). With every healthy family, there is a base of trust and respect.”

Murphy added that it is important that each member of the family “be respected for who they are as individuals.”  

Other statistics unearthed by Mitchell found that 17 per cent of children in Canada live in common-law families and Quebec has the lowest percentage of children growing up in married-parent families at just 39 per cent, which Mitchell suggests is a product of the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s. Alberta leads all provinces with 69.9 per cent of children enjoying a married-parent arrangement.

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