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

Fewer young adults aged 20 to 29 in couples

The census found that fewer young adults aged 20 to 29 were in couples in 2006, despite an increase in the percentage of common-law partners in this age group over the past 20 years.

Among young adults aged 20 to 24, only 17.9% were in a couple in 2006, down from 19.6% in 2001 and 28.4% in 1986. For individuals in their late twenties, 48.5% lived as part of a couple in 2006, compared to 51.1% in 2001 and 62.3% in 1986.

Fewer young adults could be in couples for many reasons. They could be delaying union formation while they pursue higher education, become emotionally and financially independent, or they may prefer to devote time to other personal or professional goals.

However, between 1986 and 2006, the proportion of individuals aged 25 to 29 in a common-law union more than doubled from 10.2% to 22.6%. This indicates that young adults still desire to be part of a couple, but perhaps with fewer perceived emotional or financial obligations than those generally associated with marriage.

Figure 14 Decreasing proportion of young adults living as couples

The proportion of common-law partners also increased for those in their early twenties, rising from 9.3% in 1986 to 12.6% in 2006. When individuals aged 20 to 24 were in a couple in 2006, it was more frequently a common-law union, whereas 20 years earlier, they were more likely to be in a marriage.

Generally, women enter relationships at younger ages than do men, and they also tend to be younger than their spouses or partners. For women in their early twenties, 23.2% lived as part of a couple in 2006. This proportion rose to 54.5% for those in their late twenties. The corresponding figures for men were 12.6% and 42.2%.

There was also a long-term decline in being part of a couple even among individuals in their thirties. Overall, the proportion of spouses and partners for 30- to 39-year-olds dropped from 77.3% to 70.5% between 1986 and 2006. As was the case with young adults in their twenties, the increase in the proportion of common-law partners (from 6.8% to 17.5%) was not sufficient to offset the decrease in the proportion of spouses in their thirties (from 70.6% to 53.0%).

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