Married couples on the decline

  • September 21, 2007

{mosimage}OTTAWA - The latest Statistics Canada’s Census 2006 report, Family Portrait, released Sept. 12, shows troubling trends that spell bad news for the future well-being of society, say pro-family groups.

That data show more single parents are raising children alone, common-law relationships have jumped by 18.9 per cent and the number of married couples continues to decline.

For the first time, unmarried Canadians over age 15 outnumbered married Canadians and couples without children (42.7 per cent) outnumbered couples with children (41.4 per cent.) More Canadians than ever are living alone (13 per cent).

“This very worrisome data is the result of 40 years of increased pressure on marriage and the family from the state, from the modern economy and from the culture,” said Michele Boulva, director of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF).

{mosimage} Catholic Civil Rights League President Phil Horgan sees a direct relationship to the decline of marriage to recent court decisions that put common-law relationships on the same footing as marriage and legalized same-sex marriage.

“This trend is in keeping with what the League predicted in light of laws and court rulings that consistently devalue our traditional understanding of marriage and family,” Horgan said. “One of the points that’s come clear in the census data is the educative function of the law. When you change these institutional understandings, people make different decisions.

“If you are not going to preserve marriage as the natural linkage between men and women for the formation of families, then all other types of combinations become more prevalent,” he said.

Though married couples still constitute the largest family group (68.6), this group is “steadily decreasing,” according to Statistics Canada, while the number of common-law relationships continues to grow and now constitutes 15.5 per cent of couples. In Quebec, that number soars to 34.6 per cent.

{sidebar id=2}Boulva said the rise of common-law families is “bad news for Canadians” because those relationships are far less stable than marriages. She pointed to the 2006 General Social Survey which showed that more than 60 per cent of these unions break up, compared with about a 30-per-cent break up rate for marriages.

“This data is a wake-up call for the state and for the church,” she said. “Our country needs to develop a culture of life and a culture of marriage.

“The breakdown in marriage and family life has severe economic impact, particularly on women and children who experience inequality and poverty following family breakdown,” she said, noting their needs then put pressure on social services.

David Quist, executive director of the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, agreed married couples do better. “They stay together longer; by their own self-judgment they lead happier lives; they tend to have higher family incomes and they tend to live healthier lives as well.”

Alan Mirabelli, executive associate at the Vanier Institute of the Family, pointed out, however, the “vast majority of Canadians still prefer marriage.”

“The value or the aspiration hasn’t changed very much,” he said.

Mirabelli noted Baby Boomers chose to have fewer children. Their children are now delaying marriage in order to finish school, pay off their debts and get established in their careers. When people marry at age 30, they are automatically going to have fewer children than their parents who married in their early 20s, he said.

“We say that with a sense of panic,” he said, but he pointed out nothing in the data should take anyone by surprise. The trends have been predictable since the 1960s, he said.

Demographic changes raise concerns about Canada’s future ability to pay for future social programs, as aging Baby Boomers retire and put more pressure on health care and social insurance.

“Where are the children coming from?” Horgan asked, noting that common-law relationships seldom produce large families and the census data show more childless couples than ever before.

The family portrait counted 45,345 same-sex couples among their census families, about 0.6 per cent of the all couples in Canada. Of that figure, 16.5 per cent chose to marry after the 2005 legalization of same-sex marriage.

Quist noted that in the first six months of this year, the City of Toronto issued 320 same-sex marriage licences, but only one was for a Canadian couple. The rest were for people from other countries.

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