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

More never-married lone parents and fewer widowed

In 2006, there were more never-married lone parents and fewer who were widowed compared to 55 years earlier, reflecting both changing social conditions and increasing life expectancy. In 2006, 29.5% of lone parents had never been legally married, while 19.0% were widowed.

In 1951, two-thirds (66.5%) of lone parents were widowed, while only 1.5% had never been legally married. Less developed medical technology, poorer health conditions, and higher mortality at all ages resulted in a greater possibility of a spouse dying prematurely in the early decades of the 1900s. Some widowed lone parents could also have lost a spouse during one of the wars earlier in the last century.

Figure 3 More never-married, fewer widowed lone parents

Nearly three in 10 (29.9%) lone parents were divorced in 2006. This proportion has been decreasing since it peaked at 34.3% in 1996. In 1951, only 3.1% of lone parents were divorced.

The higher proportion of never-married lone parents is at least partially attributed to a greater social acceptance in having children outside of marriage. In addition, some never-married lone parents could have lived as part of a common-law couple at some point in their lives.

The 1968 Divorce Act broadened the grounds for divorce by introducing 'no fault' divorce based on separation for at least three years. An amendment in 1986 reduced the minimum separation period to one year. Both contributed to the increase in lone parents who were divorced in 2006. The first census to count more divorced lone parents than widowed occurred in 1986.

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