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Study: Living arrangements of children in Canada, 1901 to 2011

Between 1901 and 2011, the family circumstances and living arrangements of Canadian children changed in many ways, according to historical information from the censuses of population.

At the same time, the Canadian families of the past had a degree of diversity that sometimes is reflected in the living arrangements of today’s families, even if the context was largely different.

In 1931, for example, 12% of children lived in lone-parent families. Most of these children lived with a widowed lone parent, meaning that a relatively large share of children at that time had experienced the death of a parent.

In contrast, the years 1946 to 1965 (the baby boom) were characterized by higher fertility rates and a larger share of children living in married-couple families. In 1961, 6% of children lived in lone-parent families, the lowest proportion observed over the period 1931 to 2011.

In the post baby-boom years, fertility and family size declined, and the proportion of children living in lone-parent families rose from 6% in 1961 to 15% in 1991. Unlike earlier decades, separation or divorce rather than being widowed, were the main reasons for lone parenthood.

In the 21st century, the proportion of children living with lone parents continued to increase, rising to 22% in 2011. Another 14% of children lived with common-law parents and 65% lived with married parents.

The 2011 Census was also the first to provide information about stepfamilies in Canada. Stepfamilies are defined as couple families with children in which at least one child is the biological or adopted child of only one married spouse or common-law partner.

In 2011, 11% of all Canadian children aged 24 and under, or about 1 million children, were in stepfamilies.
Note to readers

In this release, data from the 1901 to 2011 censuses of population are used to examine the trends in living arrangements of children, who are defined as individuals aged 24 and under living as children in census families in private households.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number survey number3901.

The article “Living arrangements of children in Canada: A century of change” is now available online in the most recent edition of Insights on Canadian Society (Catalogue number75-006-X). From the Browse by key resource module of our website, choose Publications.

A more detailed report, titled “Enduring Diversity: Living Arrangements of Children in Canada over 100 Years of the Census” is also now available in Demographic Documents (Catalogue number91F0015M). From the Browse by key resource module of our website, choose Publications.

For more information, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; [email protected]).

To enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Nora Bohnert (613-951-6545; [email protected]), Demography Division.

For more information on Insights on Canadian Society, contact Sébastien LaRochelle-Côté (613-951-0803; [email protected]), Labour Statistics Division.

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