Forty per cent of Canadian marriages end in divorce, says a new study from the Vanier Institute of the Family. ((Canadian Press))

The traditional definition of family is changing in Canada, with four in 10 first marriages ending in divorce, according to a new study.

For the first time in Canadian history, there are more unmarried people than legally married people age 15 and over in this country, says the study from the Vanier Institute of the Family released Monday in Ottawa.

It was based on data from the 2006 census, and some of the information has been reported in the years since.


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"Marriage is still a vitally important part of the experience of families in the fabric of our country and most young people do aspire to marriage," said Clarence Lochhead, executive director of the Vanier Institute, adding that even people who have divorced or separated will end up partnering up again.

"We just have to come to grips with the diversity that actually is within our experience. Then we need to find ways to address and take on the challenges that face families, but do it in an inclusive way that makes sense for the reality and not some ideal notion of what a family is or ought to be."

According to Statistics Canada, about 38 per cent of all marriages taking place in 2004 will have ended in divorce by 2035. The total divorce rate was down slightly from its peak of about 41 per cent in the mid 1980s, but slightly higher than the rate of about 37 per cent recorded in the mid 1990s.

Newfoundland and Labrador had the lowest rate of divorce at 21.6 per cent — while Quebec had the highest at 48.4 per cent.

Top 8 reasons people marry

  1. Feeling that marriage signifies commitment
  2. Moral values
  3. Belief that children should have married parents
  4. It is the natural thing to do
  5. Financial security
  6. Religious beliefs
  7. Pressure from family
  8. Pressure from friends

Top 5 reasons couples separate or divorce

  1. Different values and interests
  2. Abuse — physical and emotional
  3. Alcohol and drugs
  4. Infidelity
  5. Career-related conflict

Source: Vanier Institute of the Family

The highest proportion of married people was in Newfoundland and Labrador where 54.3 per cent were married, while Quebec had the lowest proportion of married couples with only 37.5 per cent of adults falling in this category.

For the first time in Canada, there were more couples without children than with children, and this was true throughout the country, with families with children representing a minority of families in all provinces and territories.

For married families with children, 18.6 per cent of children live with only one parent. Common-law families are growing faster than any other type of family with one in 10 Canadians living in such relationships and 14.6 per cent of children living with common-law parents.

The 2006 census was the first to report on same-sex marriages and 16.5 per cent of same-sex couples now marry.

The recent economic downturn has proven to be a stressor for families. The higher cost of living means most families now require two income earners to achieve an average standard of living.

More families are also struggling with debt and poverty. Men are also working longer hours and spending less time with their families.