Number of singles, common-law relationships and roommates rises as Canada's households evolve

Statistics Canada says the rise in the number of single-person households will have an impact on the housing market. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
Statistics Canada says the rise in the number of single-person households will have an impact on the housing market. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

The makeup of Canadian households is continuing to change, with alternatives to family households — such as roommates — and common-law marriages all seeing significant increases, says the latest census data release from Statistics Canada.

"In recent decades, there has been a gradual decrease in the share of households composed of only one family with no additional people," the media release said. "Alternatives like living alone, with roommates, or with extended family members have grown in popularity."

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Households composed of roommates who are unrelated to one another still account for only four per cent of households — but they also make up the fastest-growing household category in Canada.

The 663,835 roommate households reported in the new census represent a 54 per cent increase between 2001 and 2021, and a 14 per cent increase since 2016. Statistics Canada said the challenges associated with finding and paying for housing have contributed to that shift in household makeup.

The number of multi-generational homes or multiple family dwellings has grown by 45 per cent since 2001 and now accounts for seven per cent of all households in Canada.

After trending upward for the past 20 years, the number of young adults aged 20 to 34 living with at least one parent remained constant in 2021 at 35 per cent, the same level it was in 2016.

While the number of young adults living with parents was highest in large urban centres such as Oshawa, Toronto, Windsor and Hamilton — where almost half of 20 to 34 year-olds lived with at least one parent — their share of households in cities did decline slightly.

The number of 20 to 34 year olds living with at least one parent declined by three per cent in Vancouver and by one per cent in Montréal and Toronto. Statistics Canada said that change could have been caused by young adults moving to smaller communities during the pandemic.

Number of single-person households rises

Continuing an established trend, Statistics Canada said the number of Canadians living alone reached a record high of 4.4 million in 2021, up from 1.7 million in 1981.

In 1941 just six per cent of Canadians lived alone. By 2016, single-person households had become the dominant household type, making up 28 per cent of the total. The number of single-person households rose again in 2021, to 29 per cent.

Couples with children account for 25.3 per cent of households, while couples without children make up 25.6 per cent of households. Single-parent families account for 8.7 per cent of households.

While the number of Canadians living alone is now at a record high, Canada has a relatively small number of single-person households compared to other wealthy nations. All other countries in the G7, apart from the U.S., have more single-person households than Canada.

Statistics Canada said that growth in single-person households will affect the housing market over time. Almost six in ten single-person households are in apartments, while 61 per cent of households with two or more people live in detached houses.

The changing face of couples

The number of Canadians who are part of a couple has remained almost unchanged over the last 100 years; 57 per cent of Canadians said they were in a couple in 2021, compared with 58 per cent in 1921. But the nature of those relationships has changed.

Canada now has the largest percentage of citizens in relationships living common law in the G7 — 23 per cent — while 77 per cent of Canadians in couples report being married. The share of couples in common law arrangements is 21 per cent in the U.K., 18 per cent in France, 12 per cent in the U.S. and just 10 per cent in Italy.

Ian Barrett/The Canadian Press
Ian Barrett/The Canadian Press

The number of common-law couples in Canada increased by 447 per cent between 1981 and 2021, while the number of married couples only increased by 26 per cent over the same period.

Living common law has become the norm for adults aged 20 to 24; 79 per cent of people in this age group report being part of a couple living common-law. The trend is also increasing among older Canadians, with 16 per cent of Canadians aged 55 to 69 living common-law in 2021, compared to just 13 per cent in 2016.

Statistics Canada says that trend is being driven largely by the province of Quebec, where 43 per cent of couples live common-law. Remove Quebec from the equation and the percentage of couples in Canada living common law drops to 17 per cent in 2021.

Gender diversity

Statistics Canada gathered data on gender diversity for the first time in the 2021 census. It found that 98.5 per cent of Canada's 8.6 million couples were made up of one man and one woman who both identified with their gender at birth.

Another 1.1 per cent identified as same-gender couples — two men or two women. Transgender or non-binary couples, in which at least one member was transgender or non-binary, accounted for the final 0.4 per cent of couples.

The census found that almost 80 per cent of same-gender couples with children are made up of two women.

"In 74 per cent of step-families composed of same-gender, transgender or non-binary couples, all the children in the family were the biological or adopted child of only one spouse or partner in the couple," the release said.

A look at the Canadian Forces

Statistics Canada also took its first look at Canada's military in 50 years and asked whether Canadians were active members serving in the regular or primary reserve forces.

The census found that, as of spring 2021, there were 97,625 Canadians in the Canadian Armed Forces and another 461,240 counted as veterans.

Of those veterans, 32 per cent were still young enough to fit into the core working age group of Canadians aged 25 to 54, while 41.8 per cent of veterans were over the age of 65.

The census found that only one in five serving members were women — 19.3 per cent, compared with the 47.3 per cent of women who make up Canada's non-military workforce. Canada is still among the five countries with the highest percentage of women serving in the military (the others are Hungary, Greece, the U.S. and Bulgaria).