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

For the first time, more census families comprised of couples without children than with children

For the first time in 2006 there was a slightly higher proportion of census families comprised of couples without children than with children, continuing a downward trend observed over the past 20 years.

According to 2006 Census data, 42.7% of census families were couples who did not have children compared to 41.4% of families who were couples with children. Twenty years ago, more than half of census families were couples with children (52.0%) while 35.3% were couples without children.

The composition of families is affected by the aging of the population. The large cohort of baby-boomers born between 1946 and 1965, are more likely to be married than younger adults and, as they age, they have fewer young children at home because their children have already grown and may have established independent households elsewhere. The decrease in couples with children is also related to the fact that baby-busters are a smaller cohort and they have lower fertility rates than the previous cohorts. This phenomenon also explains, in large part, the increase in the share of married-couple families without children.

Since 1986, the proportion of married couples with children has declined from 49.4%, just under a majority, to 34.6% in 2006. On the other hand, the proportion of married couples without children has increased from 30.8% to 34.0%.

Concepts and definitions

Census family:

A census family is composed of a married couple or a common-law couple, with or without children, or of a lone parent living with at least one child in the same dwelling. A couple can be of the opposite sex or of the same sex.

Married and common-law-couple families with and without children:

Unless otherwise specified, in this document, married- or common-law-couple families with children refer to census families with at least one child aged 24 and under present in the home. Married- or common-law-couple families without children include families with all children aged 25 and over.

Children present in the home could be from either the current or previous unions, and excludes children that might have a permanent residence other than that of their parents on Census Day.

Conceptual changes in 2001 that affected the definition of census families with children:

As of 2001, the definition of census families was broadened to include the following:

  • Children in a census family who can be previously married (as long as they are not currently living with a spouse or common-law partner). Previously, they had to be 'never married'.
  • A grandchild living in a three-generation household where the parent (middle generation) is never married is, contrary to previous censuses, now considered as a child in the census family of his or her parent, provided the grandchild is not living with his or her own spouse, common-law partner, or child. Traditionally, the census family usually consisted of the two older generations.
  • A grandchild of another household member, where a middle-generation parent is not present, is now considered as a child in the census family of his or her grandparent, provided the grandchild is not living with his or her own spouse, common-law partner, or child. Traditionally, such a grandchild would not be considered as a member of a census family.

The above three changes resulted in 1.4% more census families in 2001, including 9.6% more lone-parent families, than would have been the case if the definitions had remained constant. Historical comparisons for census families, particularly for lone-parent families, must be interpreted with caution as a result of these conceptual changes.


In this document, private households and the population in private households are included in the analysis and the population in institutions and collective dwellings are excluded.

Unless otherwise specified, in this document, households with couples and children refer to couples with at least one child aged 24 and under present in the home. Households comprised of couples without children include couples with all children aged 25 and over.

Marital and conjugal status:

Legal marital status refers to the categories of legally married (and not separated), separated (but still legally married), never legally married (single), divorced and widowed.

Conjugal status refers to whether a person is legally married or living common-law. Common-law is not a legal marital status. A person who is living common-law can have a legal marital status of never legally married (single), divorced, separated or widowed.

In this document, the term 'spouse' refers to an individual who is legally married, and the term 'partner' refers to a person who is part of a common-law couple. A spouse or partner may be of the opposite sex or of the same sex.

Living arrangements of individuals:

A person living in a private household can be a spouse, a common-law partner, a lone parent, a child or a person not in a census family. Persons not in census families include persons living alone, or individuals living with other relatives or non-relatives.

For more information regarding census terminology, please consult the census dictionary.

Note on rounding:

Due to the nature of random rounding of census data, counts may vary slightly in different census products, such as the analytical document, highlight tables, and topic-based tabulations.

Figure 1 Married-couple families with children aged 24 and under is largest family structure, but declining

Married couples with children were the only census family structure to experience a decline in numbers compared to 2001. The census enumerated 3,077,700 of these families in 2006, down 54,700 from 2001.

Indeed, these differences between family structure and the presence of children can be seen in the median age, that is, the age at which one half of the population is older and the other half is younger. For married spouses with children, the median age in 2006 was 43.4 years, while for married spouses without children the median age was 60.8 years. For common-law partners, who are generally younger than their married counterparts, the median ages for those with and without children was 37.8 years and 40.2 years, respectively. The median age for lone parents, regardless of the children's age, was 45.8 years.

Between 1986 and 2006, the proportions of common-law couples with children and without children went up. The share with children more than doubled from 2.7% to 6.8%. The proportion without children at home rose from 4.5% to 8.7%.

The number of children has also dropped over time, reflecting lower fertility. Of census families with children, the proportion that had one child at home in 2006 increased slightly to 38.3% from 37.3% in 2001. In contrast, the proportion of all families with children who had three or more children dropped to 18.9% in 2006 from 19.8% in 2001.

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