Wealthy Canadians are most often married Canadians, report concludes

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Canadian families in higher income brackets are vastly more likely to be married or in common-law relationships, according to a new study released by a Canadian family advocacy group.

The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada report that Canadians are split into haves and have-nots along marriage lines and suggest that government, corporate and societal assistance be used to elevate the prominence of marriage in Canada.

"Top income earners are very likely to be married, while their low income peers are very likely to be unmarried," notes the report, released on Tuesday.

"This 'marriage gap' is a concern since marriage itself is a powerful wealth creator and poverty protector."

Analysis based on Statistic's Canada's Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics has found that Canadians in the highest income quartile are by in large married or in common-law relationships.

According to the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, 86 per cent of the highest income quartile are married or have a common-law spouse. Forty-nine per cent of those in the middle-income quartile are in a relationship, while 12 per cent of the lowest-income quartile is in a relationship.

Those numbers remain essentially unchanged from 1998, and they are also relatively constant through age brackets.

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It is difficult to gauge the value of such research. The study measures the share of all families, including families consisting of one parent. This means that families with two prospective incomes are being measured against families with only one income. But that, by and large, is the point.

The institute argues that a stable multi-parent unit is the best way to raise a family. Young adults who seek employment and a stable relationship before having children are more likely rise to higher income brackets than others. And the report stresses the value of promoting marriage and common-law spousal relationships.

"Family formation—how and whether individuals wed, separate, divorce or merely live together—is important. It not only influences individual economic wellbeing, but also the economic strength of the country," the study notes.

"Non-partisan research by reputable scholars has shown that when young people graduate from high school, get a job and get married before having children, they are at substantially reduced risk—only a two percent chance in the United States—of ever living in poverty."

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The topic of marriage can be a sensitive one. Often, situations out of our control can shift a family's makeup. More often than ever Canadians are making the decision to raise children in one-parent families.

A policy briefing provided by the Institute notes the frequency of marriage is on the decline, specifically amongst mid and low income earners.

Between 1976 and 2011, marriage in Canada decreased from 90.2 per cent of all census families to 67 per cent. Lone-parent families have doubled to 16.3 per cent. Divorced or separated couples make up the majority of that number, but the most notable increase is in the prevalence of never-married single parents.

The family advocacy group concludes its report by underlining a few policy recommendations that would promote and strengthen Canada's family industry. Sociologists Andrew Cherlin and Brad Wilcox argue that existing tax credits for families and low-income workers should be expanded.

They also propose a public education campaign, urging young Canadians to pursue education and postpone childbearing.

Wilcox also argues that expanding the accessibility to marriage counselling, and perhaps offering rebate vouchers similar to a plan recently proposed in Australia, would strengthen those bonds.

“Both government and business benefit from healthy families, and their actions can strengthen – or weaken – family stability. Governments should consider tax initiatives and youth education campaigns that promote marriage,” the report concludes. “Businesses should think about how their marketing portrays marriage, and how their workplace practices affect work-life balance. Both businesses and governments should consider ways to make marriage counseling more accessible."

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