11. Changing families

Children today are being born into families that are smaller and more varied, and their parents tend to be older. Most children live in families where the adults are married, but a growing number (one-third) have parents who are single or live in common-law unions. Women are waiting longer to have children. Over the last 20 years, the average age of women giving birth rose from 27 years to 29.3. In Nova Scotia, Ontario, British Columbia and Yukon, the fertility rate of women aged 30 to 34 has surpassed that of women aged 25 to 29.68 While the total fertility rate has edged up to 1.68 children per woman on average from its lowest of 1.5 in early 2000, it is far below the 1971 rate, when every woman averaged slightly over 2.1 children—the fertility rate that must be maintained to replace the population in the absence of immigration.69 Only Nunavut (2.98 children per woman), the Northwest Territories (2.08) and Saskatchewan (2.05) had almost as many births as deaths in 2008. In contrast, British Columbia has the lowest fertility rate, at 1.51 children per woman.70 Declining fertility is giving rise to smaller families. In families with two adults, the average number of children at home is one. The urban–rural gap is also reflected in family size. Fertility is lowest in the largest metropolitan areas and rises steadily as areas become more rural.71

Another trend is toward childless couples. More than 40 percent of married couples, and half of common-law couples, do not have any children. Perhaps the most significant change in family life arises from the marked increase in working mothers. Canada has one of the highest rates of mothers working outside the home among OECD countries. Over 70 percent of mothers with children younger than 6 years are in the labour force, compared to 61 percent for the OECD and the European Union.72 This phenomenon is changing gender and family dynamics, and has given rise to a new generation of children who are spending a large part of their early childhood in care outside the home.

Bucking many of the family trends is the Aboriginal population. In the 2006 Census, 1.17 million people identified themselves as Aboriginal, a 45 percent jump over 1996. Statistics Canada attributes the population growth to higher fertility rates and a growing number of people identifying themselves as Aboriginal. The fertility rate of Aboriginal women was 2.6 children in 2006, compared to 1.68 (2008) children among all women in Canada. The Aboriginal population is also younger: half are 24-years-old or younger, with a median age of 27, compared with 42 among non-Aboriginals. Aboriginal children also live in different family groupings, but are twice as likely to live with a lone parent or other relative as non-Aboriginal children and are more likely to be born to a teenage mother.73 The Aboriginal population is also becoming urbanized. Across Canada, 54 percent of Aboriginals live in urban areas, up from 50 percent in 1996. The majority of Aboriginal people live in the territories and Prairie provinces. Winnipeg has the greatest concentration of Aboriginal people of any Canadian city. Its population is 10 percent Aboriginal, compared to Toronto or Montreal with 0.5 per cent.74

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