More Canadians living alone and without children, census figures show

Childless couples and empty-nesters growing at faster rate than couples living with children, 2016 census figures show.

Childless couples and empty-nesters growing at faster rate than couples living with kids, 2016 census shows

More Canadians are living alone and without children in the home, in part due to the aging population, newly released data from the 2016 census shows. (Shutterstock)

Canadians are living increasingly alone and without children, according to the latest census figures released by Statistics Canada.

The number of Canadians living alone increased to its greatest share since Confederation and was the most common type of household in the country in 2016, representing 28.2 per cent of all households in Canada.

That is an increase from 25.7 per cent in 2001. Fully 13.9 per cent of the Canadian adult population now lives alone. That figure stood at just 1.8 per cent in 1951.

According to Statistics Canada, this puts Canada well in line with the United Kingdom and the United States, though countries like France and Germany have more single-person households.

The single-person household is most common in Quebec at 33.3 per cent, while British Columbia and Nova Scotia also have more single-person households than the Canadian average. The lowest rates could be found in Nunavut (18.9 per cent), while less than one-in-four adults in Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador were living alone.

Due to its aging population, the biggest increase in single-person households occurred in the Atlantic provinces, with rates of growth two to four times greater than Canada as a whole.

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A breakdown of Canada's 14,072,080 households from the 2016 census data. (Statistics Canada/Canadian Press)

Women are more likely than men to be living alone due to their longer life expectancy. On the bright side, however, the share of senior women living alone has decreased.

"This is the result of an aging population," said Johanne Denis, a director general at Statistics Canada. "We're also seeing higher rates of separation and divorce, delayed couple formation among younger Canadians and more women in the labour force. These are trends that other countries are also experiencing."

Empty-nesters growing at faster rate

The 2016 census found that the rate of growth since 2011 among couples living without children has been greater than among those couples living with children, at 7.2 per cent to 2.3 per cent.

Couples with at least one child represented 51.1 per cent of all couples, their lowest share on record. The biggest decline occurred in Atlantic Canada, with Nova Scotia having the lowest share at 42.8 per cent.

Half of all couples in Canada live with at least one child in the home, and a slim majority of couples living together are married, 2016 census data shows, although those numbers are down from previous censuses. (Shutterstock)

Nunavut had the highest share of couples living with children at 76.5 per cent, while the Northwest Territories, Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba were all above the national average.

"The growth is fuelled by boomers becoming empty-nesters," said Laurent Martel, director of the demography division at Statistics Canada.

The census also found that 69.7 per cent of all children under the age of 15 live with both their biological parents, while 6.1 per cent live with two parents, one of them a step-parent.

But just under one-fifth of Canadian children live in single-parent households — four-fifths of them with a single mother. However, the rate of single-father households has increased significantly since 2001.

Common law, same-sex couples increasing

Though married couples still form the majority of couples in Canada, the share of common law couples has increased dramatically since 1981 to 21.3 per cent from 6.3 per cent.

After Nunavut, where half of couples are common law, Quebec has the highest share of unmarried couples at 39.9 per cent. That gives Quebec a far higher share of common law couples than some countries like Norway and Sweden that have relatively high rates.

According to the census, 42.7 per cent of common law couples in Quebec live with children. The rate in other Canadian provinces is just 11.7 per cent.

The number of same-sex couples in Canada has also increased, up 60.7 per cent from 2006, outpacing the increase in opposite-sex couples, Statistics Canada says. (Reuters / Mark Blinch)

The number of same-sex couples in Canada has also increased, up 60.7 per cent from 2006 while the rate of growth among all couples has been just 9.6 per cent over that time.

The census counts 72,880 same-sex couples in Canada, representing 0.9 per cent of all couples. About half of them live in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa-Gatineau.

About 12 per cent of same-sex couples live with children, well below the 51.4 per cent of opposite-sex couples that do. About four-fifths of same-sex couples with children are female.

Third of young adults still living with their parents

While more Canadians might be living alone and without children, Canadian parents with children are seeing them stay at home for a longer time.

Among Canadians between the ages of 20 and 34, 34.7 per cent still live with their parents, with Ontario having the highest rate in the country. That is up from 30.6 per cent in the 2001 census.

Toronto is the city with the most young adults yet to leave the nest at just under-half, or 47.4 per cent.

Accordingly, the share of young adults living both outside of their parents' homes and with families of their own has fallen to 41.9 per cent from 49.1 per cent in 2001.

"Economic conditions and the higher cost of housing, particularly in the Greater Toronto Area, are behind this increase in children living with their parents for a longer time," said Denis.

Multi-generational households, however, are the fastest growing in the country — up 37.5 per cent since 2001, a greater rate of increase than households in general. This could be explained by the greater frequency of multi-generational households among Indigenous and immigrant communities, two growing sectors of the population.

A look at the proportions of couples with or without children across Canada in 2016. (Statistics Canada/Canadian Press)


Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.