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Marriage: “I do”? More like “I don’t”

December 12, 2022, 11:00 a.m. (EST)

Have your two favourite lovebirds decided to say “I do”? When we think of weddings, we automatically think of gatherings. Family and friends come together under one roof to celebrate the newlyweds. Unfortunately, the public health restrictions and lockdowns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on the wedding plans of many couples.

This historic drop in marriages happened in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020,  98,355 marriages were registered in Canada—the lowest annual number since 1938. Marriages registered in 2020 amounted to one-third (-33%) of the number registered in 2019 (146,121).

Across Canada, more people said “I don’t”

All the provinces and territories saw a drop in marriages in 2020, but to varying degrees. Among the provinces, Quebec experienced the largest downturn (-49%), and Saskatchewan, the smallest (-18%). Generally, the decline was bigger in Ontario and the eastern provinces, and smaller in the Prairies and British Columbia. These differences could reflect variations in the severity of public health measures across the provinces and territories. For example, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces implemented more stringent measures in the early months of the pandemic.

Drop in the number of marriages per capita

After peaking in 1972, the crude marriage rate, or the number of marriages per 1,000 population, began a steady decline that continues five decades later. The aging population, the growing popularity of common-law unions and the increase in average age at marriage are among the key factors behind this decrease.

Number of marriages down in Canada and other G7 countries

The downward trend in marriage rates isn’t limited to Canada—it's seen around the world.

For example, from 1991 to 2019, marriage rates in Canada kept pace with rates in countries like the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. Although marriage rates were higher in the United States, they also saw a relative decline similar in size to that observed in Canada during this period.

Just before the pandemic in 2019, Canada’s crude marriage rate was near the G7 average. However, from 2019 to 2020, the 33% drop in number of marriages in Canada was relatively sharp. This is comparable to the decline observed in France (-34%), smaller than in Italy (-47%), but greater than in Germany (-10%), Japan (-12%) and the United States (-17%).

Average age at marriage on the rise in the provinces and territories

In 1968, the average age at marriage reached a low of 25.6 years after several years of decline. Since then, the average age at marriage has increased almost continuously, reaching 35.3 years in 2019. In recent years, the growing popularity of common-law unions, sometimes as a prelude to marriage, has become the main reason for delaying marriage.

While the average age at marriage has increased across Canada, rates vary from one region to another. Over time, trends in age at marriage are diverging more and more between the provinces and territories.

From 1991 to 1995, the difference between the lowest average age at first marriage (26.6 years in Saskatchewan) and the highest (29.2 years in Yukon) was 2.6 years. From 2016 to 2020, the difference more than doubled to 5.4 years, with Manitoba posting the lowest average age (29.9 years) and Quebec, the highest (35.3 years). The wider gap in age at marriage between regions reflects the fact that common-law unions are growing in popularity across the country, though at different rates. According to the 2021 Census, Quebec and the territories have the highest proportions of couples living common-law, while Ontario and the Prairies have the lowest.

What about you? Ready to take the plunge? There’s lots to do: pick the rings, book a hall, finalize your guest list and choose which DJ will keep it rockin’ all night. Whatever you decide, may you have many happy years together!

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