Fewer ‘mom, dad and kids’ families, more people living alone: Statistics Canada

THE 2016 Census data show that, today, proportionally fewer households are composed of a ‘mom, dad and kids’ family and more people are living alone, as part of a couple without children, or as part of a multigenerational family, says Statistics Canada.

Canadians’ lives at home have evolved since Confederation, when large rural families consisting of a married couple and several children were common. In 1871, there were on average 5.6 people per household, a ratio that dropped to 2.4 by 2016.

These changes are the results of demographic shifts, such as population aging and increasing ethnocultural diversity, as well as social, economic and legislative changes. The evolving living arrangements and families of Canadians can also have consequences, for example on the housing market, on caregiving and care receiving and on intergenerational relationships.

The percentage of one-person households is now at a high in Canada’s 150-year history.

There were 14.1 million private households in Canada in 2016, 9.5 million (67.7%) of which were composed of at least one census family. Census families are defined as married or common-law couples, with or without children, and lone-parent families.


ONE-PERSON households accounted for 28.2% of all households in 2016—the highest share since Confederation in 1867.

One-person households became the most common type of household for the first time in 2016, surpassing couples with children, which were down from 31.5% of all households in 2001 to 26.5% in 2016. In comparison, the percentage of one-person households was 25.7% in 2001.

At the time of Confederation few people lived alone, and the vast majority of households were family households. Since 1951, the percentage of households comprised of just one person increased steadily, from 7.4% to 28.2% in 2016. Looking at it another way, in 2016, 13.9% of the Canadian population aged 15 and over lived alone, compared with 1.8% in 1951.

Besides one-person households and households comprised of at least one census family, a small share (4.1%) of households were comprised of two or more persons who were not members of a census family, such as roommates or siblings living together.

A number of social, economic and demographic factors have contributed to the rise in the number of people living alone. For example, income redistribution, pensions and the increased presence of women in the workforce have led to more people being economically independent today than in the past, especially in older age groups.

In addition, higher separation and divorce rates have led to more people living alone instead of in couples. Finally, population aging and higher life expectancy have also contributed to the increase in one-person households, given that a larger share of seniors live alone as compared to other age groups.

Canada’s percentage of one-person households (28.2%) was similar to that of the United States (27.5% in 2012) and the United Kingdom (28.5% in 2014) but lower than that of many other industrialized countries.

Over one-third of households in France (33.8% in 2011) and Japan (34.5% in 2015) had one resident. The percentages were still higher in Sweden (36.2% in 2011), Norway (40.0% in 2012) and Germany (41.4% in 2015).


THE number of couples without children is growing faster than those with children.

Trends in the share of couples living with or without children also reflect the growing diversity of households and families in Canada.

From 2011 to 2016, the number of couples living without children rose faster (+7.2%) than the number of couples with children (+2.3%). As a result, the share of couples living with at least one child fell from 56.7% in 2001 to 51.1% in 2016—the lowest level on record.

The proportion of couples living with children has been decreasing for some time. This is mostly due to population aging. As the large baby-boom generation—people born from 1946 to 1965—grows older, more and more couples are becoming empty nesters due to their children leaving home.

However, this trend has been partly offset by an increasing share of young adults living with their parents over the last four decades.


COMMON-LAW unions are still increasing.

Married couples represented the majority of couples in 2016, although common-law unions are becoming more frequent in every province and territory. In 2016, over one-fifth of all couples (21.3%) were living common law, more than three times the share in 1981 (6.3%).

The proportion of couples living common law was higher in Canada than in the United States, where 5.9% of couples were in non-marital cohabiting unions (in 2010). The proportion in Canada was also slightly higher than in the United Kingdom (20.0% in 2015), but lower than in France (22.6% in 2011), Norway (23.9% in 2011) and Sweden (29.0% in 2010).


MULTIGENERATIONAL households are the fastest growing type of household.

In 2016, the proportion of multigenerational households—households that include at least three generations of the same family—was only 2.9% (403,810 households). However, from 2001 to 2016, multigenerational households rose the fastest (+37.5%) of all household types, well above the increase of 21.7% for all households. In 2016, 6.3% of Canada’s population living in private households, or 2.2 million people, lived in a multigenerational household.

The increase in multigenerational households may be partly attributed to Canada’s changing ethnocultural composition. This type of living arrangement is more common among Aboriginal and immigrant populations, which account for a growing share of Canada’s population. The higher number of multigenerational households may also be related to housing needs and the high cost of living in some regions of the country.

Non-census-family households of two or more persons, such as roommates or siblings living together, and other family households (two or more census families living together or one census family living with other people, after excluding multigenerational households) also rose sharply. Together, these two household types accounted for 7.8% of all private households in 2016, and 10.1% of Canada’s population in private households.