Junior's at home and grandma's alone

Wednesday, October 23, 2002 – Print Edition, Page A1

OTTAWA -- Canada is a place of loners and shrinking families, where the lovers have increasingly lost interest in a walk down the aisle, the young adults like to shack up with mom and dad, and the eldest citizens are more often living the solitary life.

Canadians continue to redefine the nature of the "traditional" family unit, according to the latest figures released in the 2001 national census, with married parents giving up more ground to common-law couples. This continues to be especially true in Quebec, where three in 10 of the province's children are being raised by non-married parents.

A first-ever counting recorded 34,200 same-sex, common-law couples, about 0.5 per cent of all cohabiting pairs in the country.

And among young adults, the family home remains a cozy, cost-saving option -- as many as four in 10 Canadians in their twenties are living off parental hospitality, an alternative most popular in Ontario and Newfoundland.

But in an aging nation where love and kids often come later in life, the fastest-growing lifestyle category is not family living at all, but people living alone. It accounts for one-quarter of the households and occured more often in 2001, even among Canadians 85 and older. In Alberta, for example, the number of new households surpassed even the surge in provincial population, largely due to a spike in solitary living.

The census is proof that Canadians are adapting to the reality of North American life, where jobs are uncertain, but demanding, and child care is left largely to the cost and co-ordination of individual families, said Alan Mirabelli, executive director of administration and communication for the Vanier Institute of the Family.

"Families are saying, 'We're vulnerable, so let's travel light,' " he said of indications that people are choosing to have fewer children or marry later. "People have responded in a gut level to what they see around them. But the private decisions that couples make, such as how many children to have, has a public impact."

For one thing, many experts such as Mr. Mirabelli have observed, and the census suggests, that Canada is headed for an unsettling imbalance, with a booming elderly population that needs pensions and health-care services, and a too-small pool of younger workers to pay for them.

This is reflected by the fact that as many Canadians now live alone as live in a four-member family, the families themselves are smaller, and there is an increasingly varied collection of children and parents, from single to second-marriage to same-sex.

While married couples still constitute the majority of parents, their numbers continue to drop nationally, down to 70 per cent from 83 per cent in 1981. At the same time, the number of common-law couples has spiked in the last 20 years, doubling across the country.

In Quebec, common-law arrangements now account for 30 per cent of all couples in the province.

Even so, other studies suggest that, while young Canadians are likely to start their relationship with a common-law arrangement, as many as 75 per cent will probably marry eventually.

About one in five of Canada's children live in a single-parent household, most common in Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and the northern territories.

Children in Canada

Canada's distribution of children aged 0 to 14 according to marital status of parent(s):
68.4% married parents
18.8% single parent
12.8% common-law parents

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