Statistics Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Families, households and housing

Warning View the most recent version.

Archived Content

Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please contact us to request a format other than those available.

Canada’s families and households have undergone major changes since the late 1960s. Common-law unions, lone-parent families, smaller households and people living alone are all on the rise. Behind the shifts are diverse factors such as a falling birth rate, delayed marriage and childbearing, and the rise in divorces.

Yet the family is alive and well in Canadian society. In 2001, 25.6 million people lived in a family household, representing 87% of the population living in private households. There were nearly 8.5 million census families, up from 5.0 million in 1971.

The proportion of families with mom, dad and kids—still the largest group—is declining, whereas the proportion with no children at home is on the rise. In 2001, married or common-law couples with children aged 24 and under living at home represented 44% of all families, down from 55% in 1981. The proportion of couples with no children at home was 41% in 2001, up from 34% in 1981.

Common-law unions increasingly popular

More and more couples are living in common-law arrangements. From 1981 to 2001, the proportion of common-law families more than doubled from 6% to 14%.

The trend toward common-law unions is strongest in Quebec—30% of all couples in 2001. This percentage is close to that in Sweden, a country known for having one of the highest rates of non-marital unions.

Canadians are now more likely to start their conjugal life through a common-law relationship. Even so, most couples are married. In 2006, an estimated 84% of couples were legally married.

Nevertheless, a growing number of children live in other types of family structures. In 2001, around 732,900 children 14 and under, or 13%, were living with parents who have a common-law relationship—more than four times the 3% in 1981. Blended families accounted for 12% of all couples with children in 2001, compared with 10% in 1995.

In 2001, 1.1 million children 14 and under, or 19%, were not living with both their parents. Most of these children were living with a lone parent, in most cases their mother. Also, 190,810 children in this age group were living in the same household as their grandparents. However, they accounted for only 3% of all children 14 and under.

Several provinces began to register same-sex marriages in 2003 and 2004. Then on June 28, 2005, Canada became the third country after Belgium and the Netherlands to recognize same-sex marriages. In 2003, 774 same-sex marriages were registered in British Columbia, the only province that published data on same-sex marriages at that time. Just over half of those couples were not residents of Canada, and a greater proportion of women than men married a person of the same sex. Nearly 28% of the women had been married before, versus 14% of the men.

Households are smaller

Households have been shrinking over the past two decades. Fewer people are living in large households, and more people are living alone. In 1981, households had 2.9 persons on average. By 2001, the average household size was 2.6 persons.

The proportion of one-person households has increased—from 20% of all households in 1981 to 26% in 2001. Meanwhile, the proportion of households with four or more persons shrank from 33% of all households to 26%.

The decline in household size stems partly from the much lower fertility rates in recent decades—on average, couples are having fewer children. The number of childless couples and couples with no children still residing with them has climbed significantly. Also dissolutions of marriages and common-law unions often result in smaller households, as does the death of a spouse.

A growing number of elderly persons are living alone, which is also contributing to the rise of the one-person household. In 2001, among Canadians aged 65 and older, 35% of women and 16% of men were living alone, compared with 32% of women and 13% of men in 1981. Women have a longer life expectancy and are more likely to be widowed, so a larger proportion of women than men live alone in their later years.

Most households own their home

Most Canadians own their home. In 2005, 67% of households were homeowners, whereas the other households rented. Just under half of those who owned had no mortgage. The average age of mortgage-free owners was 60, compared with 44 for those with a mortgage.

The proportion of households owning their home has been stable for more than 10 years. However, the proportion varies from one province or territory to another. In 2005, the proportion of homeowner households ranged from 59% in Quebec to 80% in Newfoundland and Labrador. Nunavut has the highest share of households that rent.

Canadians’ houses are getting bigger, even though families are getting smaller. In 1997, 38% of households lived in a dwelling with at least seven rooms; by 2005, that proportion had risen to 41%. Over the same period, the proportion of households inhabiting a home with one to four rooms remained stable.

Most dwellings in Canada are in good shape. In 2005, 77% of households lived in a home needing no repair. Only 7% of households lived in a structure needing major repairs, down from nearly 9% in 1997.