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Defining Families

Canadians generally derive a great deal of pleasure from their families. In a 1994 Angus Reid opinion poll, two-thirds of Canadians strongly agreed with the statement that their families are "the greatest joy in their lives." Yet the meaning of family varies from one person to the next. Statistics Canada, the branch of the Canadian government responsible for collecting and analyzing national data, defines the family as

a now-married couple (with or without never-married sons and/or daughters of either or both spouses), a couple living common-law (with or without never-married sons and/or daughters of either or both partners), or a lone parent of any marital status, with at least one never-married son or daughter living in the same dwelling. (Statistics Canada, 1999, p. 119)

They call this family form the census family and it is the basic unit upon which the agency collects its family data. Unless otherwise noted, the statistics discussed throughout this article will refer to this family arrangement.

Although a majority of Canadians live in census families—83 percent in 1996—a significant proportion do not (Gee 2000). In 1996 just under a quarter (24.1%) of households were made up of a single person, and 4 percent consisted of people who were either unrelated, or related but did not meet the census definition of a family. The agency also overlooks relations of affection and support that occur outside the immediate household (e.g. relations between absent parents and their children, and between elderly parents living independently from their adult children). Thus, the fairly narrow definition held by Statistics Canada fails to portray accurately the variety of Canadian family and household forms.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsCanada - Defining Families, Trends In Marriage, Cohabitation Versus Marriage, Divorce, Variations On The Dominant Pattern