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2006 Census: Family portrait: Continuity and change in Canadian families and households in 2006: National portrait: Individuals

Legal marital status: Unmarried people outnumber married people for the first time

For the first time, the 2006 Census enumerated more unmarried people aged 15 and over than legally married people.

In 2006, more than one-half (51.5%) of the population aged 15 and over was unmarried, that is, never married, divorced, separated, or widowed, compared to 49.9% five years earlier. Conversely, only 48.5% of persons aged 15 and over were legally married in 2006, down from 50.1% in 2001.

Twenty years earlier, 38.6% of the population aged 15 and over was unmarried, while 61.4% were married.

Although the proportions of widowed and separated persons have remained relatively stable over the past two decades, increases have occurred largely among the divorced and even more so, among the never legally married population.

In 2006, 8.1% of the population aged 15 and over was divorced, while 34.9% had never been legally married, up from 7.7% and 33.4% in 2001. In 1986, only 3.5% of individuals aged 15 and over were divorced and 26.8% had never been legally married.

Figure 7 For the first time, legally married population aged 15 and over falls below 50%

Many factors account for the decreasing proportion in the legally married population and increases in the other categories. The greater social acceptance of common-law unions means that fewer people are choosing legal marriage, at least temporarily. Delayed union formation, in general, and more young adults living in the parental home while they pursue personal or professional goals also contribute to fewer marriages.

A contributing factor to the increase in the proportion of the divorced population is the 1986 amendment of the Divorce Act which made divorces easier to obtain by reducing the length of separation from three years to one year for the grounds of 'no fault' divorce. Consequently, individuals who do not subsequently remarry retain the legal marital status of divorced.

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