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The Daily

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The number of marriages in Canada appears to have reached a plateau following a flurry of activity around the turn of the millennium.

A total of 147,391 couples tied the knot in 2003, only 653 more than in 2002 and just 773 more than in 2001, according to vital statistics data from the provinces and the territories, which for the first time include limited information on same-sex marriages.

The most recent peak in marriages occurred in 2000 when 157,395 couples took their vows, presumably choosing to marry at the start of the new millennium.

The crude marriage rate in 2003 stayed at its record low of 4.7 marriages for every 1,000 population. This was less than half the rate seen in the 1940s when the rate peaked at 10.9.

In 2003, Ontario and British Columbia became the first two provinces to legalize same-sex marriage.

However, data are available only for British Columbia because Ontario's marriage registration forms do not contain information allowing the type of marriage (opposite-sex, male and female same-sex marriages) to be identified.

Percentage of persons marrying in British Columbia, by place of residence, opposite-sex marriages, 2003 
Place of residence Males Females Total
Same as the province or territory where the marriage occurred 89.0 89.7 89.4
Elsewhere in Canada 6.1 5.7 5.9
Outside of Canada 4.9 4.6 4.8
Not stated 0.0 0.0 0.0

Percentage of persons marrying in British Columbia, by place of residence, same-sex marriages, 2003 
Place of residence Males Females Total
Same as the province or territory where the marriage occurred 36.9 41.8 39.6
Elsewhere in Canada 3.8 5.1 4.5
Outside of Canada 59.2 53.1 55.9
Not stated 0.0 0.0 0.0

Of the 21,981 marriages that occurred in British Columbia in 2003, 774, or 3.5%, were between people of the same sex. More than half (55.9%) of the people who entered into a same-sex marriage in British Columbia were not residents of Canada. On the other hand, only a small proportion (4.8%) of people marrying someone of the opposite sex in that province did not reside in Canada. In 2003, Canada was the only country in the world that allowed same-sex marriages between people who were not residents of its territory.

Note to readers

For the first time, this release includes information on same-sex marriages. Following provincial court rulings in 2003, vital statistics registries in Ontario and British Columbia started registering marriages of same-sex couples.

Marriage statistics by sex are not available for Ontario as the province does not identify whether a marriage is opposite-sex, male same-sex, or female same-sex, or the sex of the person getting married. Any national marriage statistics presented by sex for 2003 exclude Ontario data.

Female couples formed majority of same-sex marriages in British Columbia

Of the 774 same-sex marriages in British Columbia, 422, or 54.5%, were female couples and 352, or 45.5%, were male couples.

Over one-quarter (27.6%) of women who married another woman had previously been married, while 14.2% of the men who married another man had previously been married.

In British Columbia, people who married someone of the same sex had an average age at first marriage of around 13 years more than people who married someone of the opposite sex.

Thus, in British Columbia, the average age at first marriage (for same-sex couples) between men was 43.9 years, and for women it was 41.6 years. However, the average age at first marriage (for opposite-sex couples) was 31.0 years for men and 28.8 years for women.

The regions: Gain in marriages in only two provinces and the Yukon

The number of marriages increased in only the Yukon, Ontario and British Columbia. These are the two provinces in which same-sex couples have been allowed to marry since 2003.

In Ontario, the number of marriages increased by 1,870, or 3.0%, from 2002, while in British Columbia, there were 734 more marriages (+3.5%) and in the Yukon 15 more (+10.5%).

In all other provinces and territories, there was a decline.

  2002 2003 2002 to 2003 2003
  number % change crude marriage rate per 1,000 population
Canada 146,738 147,391 0.4 4.7
Newfoundland and Labrador 2,959 2,876 -2.8 5.5
Prince Edward Island 901 823 -8.7 6.0
Nova Scotia 4,899 4,742 -3.2 5.1
New Brunswick 3,818 3,724 -2.5 5.0
Quebec 21,987 21,138 -3.9 2.8
Ontario 61,615 63,485 3.0 5.2
Manitoba 5,905 5,659 -4.2 4.9
Saskatchewan 5,067 4,977 -1.8 5.0
Alberta 17,981 17,622 -2.0 5.6
British Columbia 21,247 21,981 3.5 5.3
Yukon 143 158 10.5 5.2
Northwest Territories 144 139 -3.5 3.3
Nunavut 72 67 -6.9 2.3
1.Marriage statistics are compiled on the basis of province or territory of occurrence and may include marriages of non-residents of Canada and non-residents of the province or territory where the marriage took place.

The crude marriage rate was highest in Prince Edward Island in 2003, where it was 6.0 marriages for every 1,000 population. It was followed by Alberta (5.6) and Newfoundland and Labrador (5.5). The lowest rates in the country were in Quebec with 2.8 marriages for every 1,000 population, and Nunavut (2.3 per 1,000).

Quebec's low crude marriage rate is due partly to the high proportion of cohabitation in this province. Data from the 2001 Census indicate that in Quebec, 29.8% of all couples lived common-law, compared to 11.7% in the rest of Canada.

In 2003, Canada's crude marriage rate at 4.7 marriages per 1,000 population was lower than that of its neighbour, the United States, where the rate was 7.5. However, it was practically the same as that of several European countries, notably France, Austria and Germany, which had a rate of 4.6 in 2003.

Continuing rise in the average age at first marriage

Single people are getting married at an increasingly later age.

In 2003, in Canada (excluding Ontario), the average age of persons marrying for the first time (to someone of the opposite sex) was 30.6 years for men and 28.5 years for women. In 2002, in Canada (excluding Ontario), it was 30.4 years for men and 28.3 years for women.

The data for Canada (including Ontario) from 1973 to 2002 indicate that the average age at first marriage of newlyweds, who married someone of the opposite sex, gradually rose among men and women. In 1973, the average age at which men (25.2 years) and women (22.8 years) married for the first time was about five years lower than in 2003. This gradual rise in the average age at first marriage is largely due to couples cohabiting and delaying marriage.

Large gap in the average age at first marriage among the provinces

Among the provinces, excluding Ontario, the average age of the bride and of the groom at first marriage (opposite-sex couples) was highest in Quebec and lowest in Saskatchewan.

The average age of grooms in Quebec (31.9 years) was 2.6 years higher than that observed in Saskatchewan (29.3 years). The average age of brides in Quebec (30.4 years) was 3.4 years higher than that of brides in Saskatchewan (27.0 years).

Three-quarters (75.2%) of marriages in Canada were performed in a religious ceremony. The vast majority (98.3%) of marriages in Ontario were performed by a member of the clergy, the highest proportion in Canada. The lowest proportions were in British Columbia (41.0%) and the Yukon (26.6%).

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 3232.

The publication Marriages, 2003 (84F0212XWE, free) is now available online from the Publications module of our website.

For general information or to order custom tabulations, contact Client Services (613-951-1746; To enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Brigitte Chavez (613-951-1593), Health Statistics Division.