Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 24, 2007
Stats Canada 'family portrait' documents troubling trends
Married couples decline, couples without children outnumber couples with children
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
"The breakdown in marriage and family life has a severe economic impact, particularly on women and children."
- Michele Boulva
Though married couples still constitute the largest family group (68.6 per cent), this group is "steadily decreasing," according to Statistics Canada, while the number of common law relationships continues to grow and now constitutes 15.5 per cent of couples. In Quebec, that number soars to 34.6 per cent.
Boulva said the rise of common law families is "bad news for Canadians" because those relationships are far less stable than marriages. She pointed to the 2006 General Social Survey which showed that more than 60 per cent of these unions break up, compared with about a 30 per cent break-up rate for marriages.
"The breakdown in marriage and family life has a severe economic impact, particularly on women and children who experience inequality and poverty following family breakdown," she said.
David Quist, executive director of the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, agreed married couples do better. "They stay together longer; by their own self-judgment they lead happier lives; they tend to have higher family incomes and they tend to live healthier lives as well."
With the increase of divorce rates, and the increase of common law relationships, it has become easy to get out of a relationship, he said.
"Instead of saying 'What can I contribute to this relationship?' it is 'What can I get out of it?' I think that's a sad reflection," he said.
Alan Mirabelli, executive associate at the Vanier Institute of the Family, pointed out, however, the "vast majority of Canadians still prefer marriage.The value or the aspiration hasn't changed very much," he said.
Mirabelli noted Baby Boomers chose to have fewer children. Their children are now delaying marriage in order to finish school, pay off their debts and get established in their careers. When people marry at age 30, they are automatically going to have fewer children than their parents who married in their early twenties, he said.
Mirabelli also said other factors rather than selfishness could explain the rise of common law unions.
"A great number of those living common law are people who have been widowed, people who chose to live common law rather than remarry," he said, noting the tax system may play a role in penalizing people who remarry.
Demographic changes raise concerns about Canada's ability to pay for future social programs as aging Baby Boomers retire and put more pressure on health care and social insurance.
"I'm not convinced immigration is going to pick up the slack," Quist said, noting that the Chinese and Indian economies are starting to grow. People from those countries might prefer to stay home as opportunities grow there, rather than move to Canada.
Boulva said research shows the family diversity model - one that sees marriage as only one option among various equally valid family types - has failed.
"Children raised by both biological parents are less likely than children raised in single or step-parent families to be poor, to drop out of school, to have difficulty finding a job, to become teen parents, or to experience emotional and behavioral problems."
Boulva said the state needs to recognize and promote traditional marriage as a social institution, best equipped for the procreation and raising of children.
Meanwhile, all members of the Church need to launch an educational effort on "the beauty and greatness of God's plan on human conjugal love" and the positive impact of the sacrament of marriage, she said.
"We must bring young couples to understand that the sacrament of marriage is a plus in their lives; a plus for their love, because God himself becomes part of their union and guarantees them with never-ending forces of love and fidelity," she said.
The family portrait counted 45,345 same sex couples among their census families, about 0.06 per cent of the all couples in Canada. Quist said the same-sex marriage numbers are "incredibly small" considering the amount of space they have taken up in the public debate.
He also noted that in the first six months of this year, the City of Toronto issued 320 same-sex marriage licences, but only one was for a Canadian couple. The rest were for people from other countries.
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