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French Canadian Families

Children's New Family Environment

Combined changes in family size and in the nature of conjugal unions greatly modified the environment in which children are raised. In 1951, 32 percent of children lived in families with more than six children; in 1991, this percentage was less than 1 percent. Moreover, in 1951, 27 percent of children were living in families with one or two children; in 1991, this percentage reached 70 percent (Duchesne 1997). The reduction in the number of siblings occurred with a transformation of the family context prevailing at the birth of children. More than 90 percent of children born in the early 1960s had parents who had not lived together before getting married; among those born in the early 1990s, these children represented less than 25 percent (Marcil-Gratton 1998). Fifty-eight percent of children born in 2000 were born out of wedlock (Duchesne 2001).

New types of unions led to a rise in conjugal instability and, consequently, a growing number of children now experience their parents' separation. This proportion has grown from one cohort to the next, and for recent cohorts; it is almost four times higher for children whose parents were in a common-law union than for children whose parents had married without previously living together (Marcil-Gratton 1998). As a result, more and more children are spending time living with only one parent, as well as life in stepfamilies. For example, 23 percent of children born between 1972 and 1977 (observed at age 10–14) had already lived in a single-parent family, and one-third belonged to step-families when they were observed. Twenty-nine percent of children born five years later had experienced the same situation, with 40 percent belonging to a stepfamily (Duchesne 1997). In the context of this rapid diversification of families, parental roles are undergoing a profound redefinition. In particular, research shows that fatherhood is being shaken by separation and divorce, given the difficulty of maintaining contact between fathers and children in such circumstances ( Juby and Le Bourdais 1998). Undoubtedly, these changes are highly significant, and their implications for children's and families' futures remain unknown.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsFrench Canadian Families - The Quebec Family And Marriage, The Family And Reproduction, Children's New Family Environment