Canadian Vital Statistics – Marriage Database: Definitions and Methods

Age at marriage

The age at the last birthday preceding marriage.

For the rare situation when a person's age at marriage is unknown, a value is randomly imputed after accounting for the distribution of known ages, the age of their spouse (when known), their legal marital status (when known), as well as the province or territory of occurrence.

The minimum age at marriage in Canada is 16. This was established in 2015 with changes to the Civil Marriage Act and the Criminal Code. However, provincial and territorial governments may apply a higher minimum age or additional conditions before a marriage registration is accepted. In all provinces and territories, marriage can occur without the need for explicit parental consent only from the age of majority (18 or 19 years depending on the jurisdiction). Marriage between the age of 16 and the age of majority is possible in most provinces and territories with the parents' or the courts' consent.

Prior to the federal legislative changes of 2015, there was no uniform minimum age at marriage in Canada. All provinces and territories had already established that the age of majority was a minimum for marriage without parental consent, but some allowed marriage from age 15 with parental consent or even earlier if the girl had a child or was pregnant.

In practice, at the national level, a very small number of marriages to persons under the age of 15 were recorded each year until the late 1990s and to persons of age 15 until the early 2010s. For historical continuity, the first age group in the marriage data tables is labelled "Under 20 years" rather than "15 to 19 years" or "16 to 19 years" as would be more precise in recent years.

Gender and sex

Information on gender or sex in the Marriage Database comes from two sources. Marriage registration forms provide information about the number and characteristics of the persons who marry, while demographic estimates (based on the census) are used as the denominators of marriage rates.

The way in which gender or sex is measured on the marriage registration forms of vital statistics registrars differs across the provinces and territories and has changed over time. Some provinces and territories have not collected information on gender or sex since the 2003 to 2005 period, when same-sex marriages were gradually legalized across Canada. Gender-specific totals are thus unavailable for Canada since this period.

The 2021 Census marked the first time that data on gender were collected in the Census of Population. The variable resulting from this question has three categories: man, woman and non-binary person. Prior to 2021, the census only collected information on sex, which referred at the time to whether the person was male or female. The introduction of gender is not expected to have a significant impact on data analysis and historical comparability, given the small size of the transgender and non-binary populations. For additional information on changes of concepts over time, please consult the Age, Sex at Birth and Gender Reference Guide, Census of Population, 2021.

Although sex and gender refer to two different concepts, the terminology related to gender is used throughout the data tables on marriage for readability.

Starting with the reference year 2021: Given that the non-binary population is small, data aggregation to a two-category gender variable is sometimes necessary to protect the confidentiality of responses provided. In these cases, individuals in the category "non-binary persons" are distributed into the other two gender categories and are denoted by the + symbol. "Men+" includes men (and/or boys), as well as some non-binary persons. "Women+" includes women (and/or girls), as well as some non-binary persons.

Gender composition of the couple

Refers to the combination of both spouses' genders. There are three categories of gender composition of couples: different-gender marriage uniting a man+ and a woman+, same-gender marriage uniting two men+, and same-gender marriage uniting two women+.

Statistics Canada started publishing information on the sex composition of couples in the reference year 2003 for some provinces and territories. As some other provinces and territories do not collect information on gender or sex, the gender composition of couples is unknown in these jurisdictions and unavailable for Canada.

Legal marital status

Refers to the marital status of the person under the law, not taking into account common-law unions. In marriage statistics, it refers to the spouses' status just prior to marriage.

  • Never legally married
  • Legally married and not separated
  • Separated but still legally married
  • Widowed
  • Divorced

Only those persons whose legal marital status is never married, widowed or divorced can marry. Together, these three groups can be referred to as unmarried.


Marriage is the lawful union of two persons, conferring mutual rights and obligations on the spouses. Marriages must be registered by a provincial or territorial vital statistics registrar. Common-law unions and civil unions (in Quebec only) are not marriages.

Prior to 2003, marriage was defined as the lawful union of two persons of the opposite sex. Following provincial court rulings in 2003, vital statistics registries in Ontario and British Columbia started registering marriages of same-sex couples. Subsequent rulings by courts in other provinces and territories in 2004 (Quebec, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Yukon) and 2005 (New Brunswick) expanded the number of jurisdictions registering same-sex marriages. On July 20, 2005, the Civil Marriage Act came into force across Canada and extended access to civil marriage to all couples.

Marriage rates and summary nuptiality indicators

Marriage statistics are compiled by place of occurrence, instead of by place of residence. Because of this, in the calculation of marriage rates, the population covered in the numerator does not exactly correspond to the one covered in the denominator. The numerator of those rates includes all persons who married in a given place of occurrence, regardless of whether they reside there or not, whereas the denominator includes only the population that resides in that place of occurrence. This discrepancy between the populations covered in the numerator and denominator has two distinct effects on the rates. At the Canada level, marriage rates could be overestimated because the numerator includes non-residents, such as foreign tourists marrying in Canada. Conversely, marriage rates could be underestimated when Canadian residents marry in other countries. At the provincial and territorial level, both the overestimation and underestimation could be heightened because of marriages occurring in a province or territory that is not the spouses' usual place of residence. The magnitude of the over- and underestimation could vary across provinces and territories.

There are many types of marriage rates and summary nuptiality indicators, including the following:

Crude marriage rate

The number of marriages in a year per 1,000 population (all ages and marital statuses combined) as of July 1 of the same year.

Age-specific marriage rate (ASMR)

The number of persons of a specific age group who marry during the year per 1,000 unmarried persons of the same age group as of July 1 of the same year. Among persons under 20 years of age, the rate is per 1,000 unmarried persons aged 15 to 19. ASMRs can be computed for all of the unmarried population (all persons whose legal marital status is either never married, widowed or divorced) or separately by legal marital status, in which case both the numerator and denominator only include persons with a specific marital status.

Age-specific first-marriage rate (ASFMR)

The number of never-married persons of a specific age group who marry during the year per 1,000 persons of the same age group (regardless of their legal marital status) as of July 1 of the same year. Among never-married persons under 20 years of age, the rate is per 1,000 persons aged 15 to 19.

ASFMRs are sometimes referred to as "reduced first marriages" or "marriage rates of the second kind" in the demographic literature.

Total first-marriage rate (TFMR)

The total first-marriage rate (TFMR) is a summary indicator of the quantum or intensity of nuptiality in a given period. As it accounts for differences in the size and age structure of populations it is better suited to comparisons over time and across places then other summary indicators such as the number of marriages or the crude marriage rate.

The TFMR corresponds to the sum of age-specific first-marriage rates (ASFMR) observed in a given period up to a given exact age. Traditionally, the sum includes ASFMRs up to, but not including, age 50. However, ages older than 50 are sometimes used as upper limits, which is now advisable given the increase in the average age at marriage in recent decades. Two TFMRs are published in this release: the TFMR before age 50 (sum of age-specific first-marriage rates from age 15 to age 49) and the TFMR before age 80 (sum of age-specific first-marriage rates from age 15 to age 79).

In principle, the TFMR can be interpreted as the proportion of people who would marry for the first time before their 50th (or 80th) birthday in a hypothetical cohort that would experience, at each successive age from age 15, the ASFMRs calculated for a particular period. In practice, the interpretation of the TFMR is affected by the fact that it does not account for the age structure of the unmarried population. For instance, the TFMR can take a value larger than one in a period of marriage catch-up or when age at marriage is decreasing. The TFMR could also be lower than expected in a population where migration is highly positive and where immigrants are more likely to have married before their arrival than the people of the same age in the receiving population. The latter situation is true of Canada in recent years.

Probability of ever marrying in the period first-marriage table

The first-marriage table, also called the nuptiality table, is a demographic model that summarizes the nuptiality experience of a population, much like the life table summarizes its mortality experience. The first-marriage table is a thought experiment in which we ask what would happen to a cohort of never-married individuals if first marriage was the only way of leaving the never married state, that is, in the absence of mortality and migration before a first marriage. It is used to study nuptiality in a "pure" state without interference from other demographic phenomena. Such a table can be built using data observed for a specific birth cohort or period. A period first-marriage table simulates entry into first marriage in a hypothetical cohort of never-married individuals who would experience, at each successive age from age 15, the age-specific marriage rates (ASMR) observed among the never-married population in a given period and place.

The probability of ever marrying is a summary indicator of the quantum or intensity of nuptiality in the first-marriage table. It corresponds to the proportion of people, in the table's hypothetical cohort, who would marry at least once over the course of their life or before a given age. Traditionally, the upper age limit was often set at 50 years, but older ages are sometimes used and are now even advisable given the increase in the average age at marriage in recent decades. An 80-year limit is used in this release. The probability of ever marrying is the reverse of another table indicator, the probability of remaining single.

In contrast to the TFMR—to which it is closely related—the probability of ever marrying accounts for differences in the marital status composition of populations in addition to their size and age structure. It may thus provide a better summary of period nuptiality than the TFMR, at least in some circumstances.

The probability of ever marrying by age 80 in the period first-marriage table can be computed by using the following formulas:

Probability of ever marrying80=1-i=15791-pi

where pi is the probability of marrying at age i. For each age between 15 and 79, the probability is derived with:


where ti is the age-specific marriage rate (ASMR) at age i observed among the never-married population during a given year:

ti=Number of never previously married persons who marry at age iNumber of never married persons of age i in the population

The conversion of rates into probabilities is made under the assumption that rates are constant during the age interval.

Mean age at marriage

The mean (average) age at marriage is calculated by summing the age of spouses at marriage and then dividing the sum by the total number of spouses. Calculations are based on the exact age of spouses at marriage (e.g., 25.17 years, computed from the day-month-year dates of birth and marriage). When only age at last birthday is known (e.g., 25 years), a fraction of a year (0.5 year on average) is randomly added to age at last birthday. When the age of a person is known only to fall within an open-ended age interval (e.g., 80 years and over), the mean age observed for that age group in the preceding years when more detailed values are available (e.g., 83.53 years) is used as an approximation of their age for the calculation of the mean age at marriage. The ages at marriage that have been imputed are included in the calculations.

Median age at marriage

The median is the middle value in a set of ordered numbers (for example, age of spouses at marriage ranked from youngest to oldest). In the case of an even number of observations, the median is the mean (average) of the two middle values. See the definition of the mean age at marriage for information on the treatment of the age variable before calculations.


Persons whose usual place of residence is somewhere in Canada, including Canadian government employees stationed abroad and their families, members of the Canadian Forces stationed abroad and their families, crews of Canadian merchant vessels, and non-permanent residents of Canada (i.e., claimants of the refugee status and holders of a study or work permit, as well as their families). Demographic estimates are based on census counts but are adjusted for census net undercoverage and incompletely enumerated Indian reserves. Demographic estimates also adjust for the population growth over the period from Census day to the date of the estimate.

Midyear (July 1) population estimates by legal marital status are used to calculate rates in marriage vital statistics publications. Demographic estimates are frequently revised by Statistics Canada's Centre for Demography. Estimates used are the most recently available at the time of release.

Provinces and territories

Marriages are compiled based on the place of occurrence, that is, the province or territory where the marriage was solemnized and registered. Persons who marry in a given province or territory may have their usual place of residence in another country, province or territory.

Nunavut came into being officially as a Territory of Canada on April 1, 1999. The name "Northwest Territories" applies to an area with different geographic boundaries before and after that date.


The religious denomination of the spouse, as reported on the marriage certificate.

Spouse, husband (groom) and wife (bride)

A husband (or groom at the time the marriage takes place) is a married man+. A wife (or bride at the time the marriage takes place) is a married woman+. A spouse is a married person, regardless of their gender or sex. See "Gender and sex" and "Gender composition of the couple" for more information.

Type of officiant

Refers to the designation of the individuals authorized to perform marriages, that is, clergy or non-clergy. The designation of non-clergy officiants varies among the provinces and territories and includes the designations judge, justice of the peace, marriage commissioner, clerk of the court or designated person.

Vital statistics registrars

In each province and territory, a vital statistics registrar is responsible for maintaining a record of each birth, stillbirth, death and marriage occurring within its jurisdiction and for collecting information on the event and the people involved. Statistics Canada compiles the information transmitted by the thirteen registrars either as microdata or aggregate tables and then compute and release statistics from this information.

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