A Canadian Family Portrait: Changing Social Trends

Written by Posted On Wednesday, 19 September 2007 17:00

If current Canadian social trends continue, real estate professionals will notice several changes to their client base in future. They'll be dealing with more single-parent families and common-law couples, and fewer traditional married couples with kids. First-time home buyers will be older, but perhaps in better financial shape to buy their house.

Recently released figures show that 8,896,840 families were counted in the May 2006 census, an increase of 6.3 per cent from 2001. The number of married-couple families increased by only 3.5 per cent compared to a jump of 18.9 per cent by common-law couple families. Lone-parent families increased by 7.8 per cent.

Between 2001 and 2006, the number of same-sex couples counted was up by 32.6 per cent, or five times the pace of opposite-sex couples. For the first time, the census counted married same-sex couples -- there were 7,465, or 16.5 per cent of all same-sex couples.

The number of private households in Canada rose by 7.6 per cent between 2001 and 2006, while the total population in those households rose by 5.3 per cent. One-person households increased by 11.8 per cent, more than twice as fast as the increase for the total population. There were more than three times as many one-person households as those with five or more people in 2006.

The slowest rate of growth during the five years between studies was for couples with children aged 24 or younger, an increase of just 0.4 per cent. For the first time, the 2006 census counted more unmarried people aged 15 and over than legally married people.

For the last 20 years, there's been a trend for young adults to stay home with their parents longer, or return to the parent's home after living away for awhile.

"The transition to adulthood is taking longer to complete," says Warren Clark, a senior analyst with Statistics Canada, in a study called Delayed Transitions of Young Adults. "Young people are living with their parents longer, are more highly educated and attend school for more years than their parents did. The age at marriage has been rising, fertility rates have been falling and the age at which women have their first child has been increasing."

In 2006, 43.5 per cent of the four million people aged 20 to 29 lived in the parental home, up from 41.1 per cent in 2001. In 1986, only 32.1 per cent of young adults were living with their parents.

Using "five markers of adult transition," defined as leaving school; leaving the parent's home; full-time, full-year employment; entering a conjugal union; or having children, Clark says an average 25-year-old in 2001 had gone through the same number of transitions as a 22-year-old in 1971. A 30-year-old in 2001 had made the same number of transitions as a 25-year-old in 1971.

"This suggests that the path to adulthood is no longer as straight as it was back in 1971," says Clark. "In fact, you could say that the transitions of today's young adults are both delayed and elongated: delayed, because young adults take more time to complete their first major transition (leaving school) … and elongated, because each subsequent transition takes longer to complete and stretches the process of their late teens to their early 30s."

Once young people finally do leave home, they are more likely to live alone than previous generations, says Clark. "Young men are more likely than young women to live by themselves: the rate peaks at age 28 and remains fairly close to that peak until age 34. In contrast, the rate for women is highest at age 27 and then trails off. This suggests that, compared with the past, more young men have developed a bachelor lifestyle that lasts well into their 30s."

Clark says that housing prices have risen more quickly than the income of young men "and despite declines in mortgage interest rates, young men would still have to spend more of their income on mortgage payments in 2001 than they did in 1971. This reinforces the increased need for two incomes in order to own a home, adding to the economic insecurity young adults may feel."

He says many young adults continue to live with their parents "not just because of the financial burden of paying for their postsecondary education, but also because they may be unemployed or working in a low-paying precarious job."

The flood of facts and figures offered by the census shows that builders and other real estate professionals must be prepared to market homes to a wider variety of client lifestyles, ranging from one-person homes to houses that can accommodate extended families of all ages.

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Jim Adair

Jim Adair has been writing about Canadian real estate, home building and renovation issues for more than 40 years. He is the former editor of Canada’s leading trade magazine for real estate professionals, as well as several home building, décor and renovation titles. You can contact him at [email protected]

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