Married people are in the minority in Canada for the first time, according to census information released Wednesday by Statistics Canada.

census-cp-3574476

More Canadian couples, like Montrealers Sebastien Ross and Nancy Mercier, are remaining unmarried while raising children. ((Ian Barrett/Canadian Press))

The data shows 51.5 per cent of people overage 15 were unmarried in 2006, marking the first time married people have been outnumbered in the census, which began nationally in 1871.

In the last census, in 2001, 49.9 per cent were unmarried.

The details on marital status were part of a package of census data released about Canada's families, living arrangements and households. Statistics Canada calls this information its "family portrait" of Canadians.

Census highlights include:

  • For the first time, there were more familieswithout children (42.7 per cent) than with children (41.4 per cent).
  • The number of common-law families surged 18.9 per cent since 2001, to nearly 1.4 million families.
  • Common-law families now make up 15.5 per cent of families, while 20 years ago, they only represented 7.2 per cent.
  • Twenty-sixper cent of families with children are headed by a single parent.
  • Of the 1.4 million single-parent families, about 20 per cent are headed by men. The number of men at the head of single-parent families is growing more than twice as fast as the number of women.

Statistics Canada uses the term "families" to define a variety of households— couples (married or common law) who don't have children, couples who have children and an adult with at least one child.

A child, according to Statistics Canada, can be a step-child, an adopted child or even a grandchild who is cared for by their grandparents. A child must be living in the household.

Rosemary Bender, a spokeswoman for Statistics Canada, told CBC News that the dropin marriage numbers is partially due to the growing number of common-law relationships.

"More and more Canadians are entering into these types of relationships," she said.

She said common-law couples are now found across all age groups, with people in their early 60s entering into common-law relationships at the most rapid rate of all age categories.

Bender also noted that the number of couples without children has surpassed the number of couples with children.

She said this is due, in part, to the fact that people are having fewer children, but also because of the aging population. Baby boomers are now finding themselves to be empty nesters, she said.

Same-sex marriage counted for1st time

The census, for the first time, counted same-sex married couples, reflecting the legalization of same-sex marriage in Canada in 2005.

Same-sex couples applauded the change.

"It's absolutely significant," Gemma Schlamp-Hickey said from St. John's, Nfld., where she lives with her wife, Wendolyn Schlamp-Hickey.

"Today I feel completely validated as a Canadian and as a family in Canada."

The census recorded 45,345 same-sex couples in Canada, of whom 7,465 (16.5 per cent) were married.

Half of all the same-sex couples live in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

Same-sex couples make up 0.6 per cent of all couples in Canada, comparable to the ratio in Australia and New Zealand.

Lone-parent families struggle with poverty

Lone-parent families have been a phenomenon since the early 20th century, with rates in the 1930s almost as high as they were in 2006.

However, the reasons children are being raised by single parents has changed, Statistics Canada says.

In the past, parents were left widows because of lower life expectancy rates and wars, said Anne Milan, a senior analyst with Statistics Canada. In 2006, divorce rates and decreasing taboos about having children out of wedlock played a role.

Regardless of the reasons, financialstruggles are a common thread among single-parent families. In 2005, the median household income for two-parent families in Canada was $67,600. For lone-parent families, it was $30,000.

"The problem is that you have only one breadwinner, when that breadwinner is employed at all," said Anne-Marie Ambert, professor emeritus of sociology at York University in Toronto.

With files from the Canadian Press