By DAWN WALTON
Wednesday, October 23, 2002
CALGARY -- The number of people living in each Canadian home is shrinking, a trend driven partly by a growing proportion of people, many of them elderly women, living alone, Statistics Canada has found.
There were more one-person households (2,976,875) than there were homes with at least four people (2,938,455), according to 2001 census data released yesterday.
The average Canadian household shrank to 2.6 people in 2001 from 2.9 people in 1981. That's a further decline from 1951, when the average number of people sharing a residence was four.
Statscan pointed to several factors that may account for the downsizing.
"The decline in household size is at least partially a result of much lower fertility rates in recent decades, as couples have, on average, fewer children. There has also been a large increase in childless couples and couples with no children still present in the household," the federal agency noted.
Statscan found that a breakdown in marriages and common-law relationships has split many families into two smaller households. An increase in the number of elderly living alone has also contributed to the shift away from group living.
When Sylvia Hunt's husband died in 1973, she continued to live in the house they built until the last of their four children left home in the late 1970s. She's still in that Calgary house, alone and happy.
The 77-year-old is too busy to get lonely, with bowling, yard chores, work at a local school, and duties at the province's war brides association, and is well able to take care of herself.
Still, Mrs. Hunt's oldest daughter wants her to move in with her.
"I don't think I should," she said, "They have their own lives. I would rather go into a seniors place or something where there are people my own age if I do decide."
Like a growing number of seniors, Mrs. Hunt is delaying that step.
Last year, 35 per cent of women and 16 per cent of men over age 65 lived alone. One-person households were most prevalent in Western Canada and Quebec.
Four of the five large Canadian cities with the highest proportion of people living alone are in Quebec. About one-third of the households in Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières, Québec, Montreal and Victoria are home to one person.
One-person households are least common in Newfoundland and Labrador, but St. John's had the largest five-year increase in single living: 32 per cent more loners last year than in 1996.
Statscan also found that the growth in the number of private households -- a 7- per-cent increase last year from 1996 -- has outpaced the growth in the number of people residing in them. That increased 4 per cent last year over 1996. (A private household is defined as a person or group living in a dwelling.)
This jump in private households was most pronounced in economically healthy Alberta, which has almost double the national rate.
Harry Hiller, a sociology professor at the University of Calgary who is heading the federally funded Alberta In-Migration Study, credits the trend to a growing young and professional population with money to spend on accommodation.
But all that growth and individual wealth has ramifications for municipal and provincial governments.
"There are the usual issues of infrastructure and health care, and so on, and we've got a government that promotes economic growth, but isn't always aware of the implications of that in terms of the provision of services for people," Prof. Hiller said.