Statistics Canada on Wednesday released new 2011 census numbers on the makeup of Canadian households. The agency found two-thirds of the families in Canada are made up of married couples. That's down slightly from 2006 numbers and represents a steep decline from 1961, when more than 90% of all households were made up of married couples.
"We're seeing families are much more complex today," said Jane Badets, the agency's director general of social and demographic statistics. "You can see how Canadian families, Canadian society has changed over time."
She noted the changes are based on demographics -- the aging population, for example -- as well as shifts in social norms.
The prevalence of common-law couples rose 13.9% since 2006 -- four times the growth of married couples in this country. In fact, the number of unmarried couples has more than quadrupled since 1981, when StatsCan began tallying that category of Canadian family, and now 16.7% of all Canadian couples are common law.
Queen's University law professor Nick Bala said the picture the census paints of Canadian families confirms the portrait of Canadian families continues to grow more diverse, with trends he foresees having an impact on social policy and legal issues.
Bala pointed to the high profile the Eric v. Lola case heard by Canada's top court in January, which deals with issues over common-law spouses have access to the same legal right as married spouses.
Nonetheless, despite the shifts seen in Canada over 50 years that are likely to continue, "we're still a society that has a strong commitment to marriage, I don't see it disappearing," he said.
And in 2011, common-law couples outnumbered lone-parent families slightly for the first time. One-parent households make up 16.3% of all households in Canada, with about one in five children being raised by a single parent. We also saw a small - but significant, according to Bala - boost in lone-parent families headed by men.
"What that to me reflects is fathers are more involved in child care," Bala said.
The census found most kids in Canada (63.6%) live with married parents, and a growing share live with common-law parents. One Canadian child in 10 lives with a stepfamily.
It's the first time the number-crunching agency looked at stepfamilies and foster children in Canada. There are more than 464,000 stepfamilies in this country - representing 12.6% of all couples with children - and almost 30,000 foster children.
"Living arrangements of children are diverse," Badets said.
Canadian families have also grown smaller over time, with the percentage of couples without children (44.5%) outstripping couples with children (39.2%) -- a gap that's been widening since 2006. The percentage of families with only one child has also edged up slightly in the past 10 years.