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Marriage Canada

The institution of marriage in Canada has not always been one. Marriage customs and rites among the First Nations and Inuit people differed, although there were some similarities.

Women married when they reached puberty. Men were older, choosing wives when they could provide for a family. There was no gender disparity when deciding when and whom to marry, although men who could afford it could have more than one wife. Marriage was a practical consideration, often carried out for political and economic gain.

It was only when Europeans came that religion became the driving force behind marriage. The basis of legal marriage in Canada was religious until the mid-19th century because it followed English law.

That is, until the Constitution Act of 1867. It united the provinces of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick to form the federal dominion of Canada. Manitoba and the Northwest Territories joined in 1870, British Columbia in 1871, and Prince Edward Island in 1873. Yukon became part of the Northwest Territories in 1898, followed by Saskatchewan and Alberta in 1905, and Nunavut in 1999. Newfoundland joined in 1949.

The Act also conferred legislative power over marriage to the federal government under Section 91 (26). However, provinces retained the right to solemnize marriages under Section 92 (12). 

Much has changed with legal marriage in Canada since 1867. For instance, under the Civil Marriage Act, same-sex marriage became legal in 2005. As a result, the number of same-sex couples jumped by 60.7% from 2006 to 2016.

Under the same law, the federal government set the minimum age for a Canadian couple to marry at 16. However, provinces set their own minimums, and most chose 18 or 19. Thus, married people between the age of 15 and 19 in 2021 were rare.

The legal aspects of marriage appear to have a significant impact on the behaviour and attitudes of Canadians toward marriage. Below are some marriage statistics in Canada that paint an interesting picture.


Marriage Among Different Age Groups

Statistics Canada reports that Canadian marriages are on the decline. The General Social Survey on marital status indicates a slow but steady shift away from marriage. More people stayed single or engaged in a common-law relationship than in previous years.

In Ontario, a common-law relationship is when partners have been living as a married couple for three years or more. If they have a natural or adopted child, that period shortens to one year. Obtaining the status of common-law partners can have tax and government benefits.

Among the 19.9 million residents aged 25 and 64 in 2017, most (56%) were married. However, 39% lived as common-law partners for an average of 3.6 years before getting married. In 2006, it was just 25%, for an average of 2.5 years. Additionally, 21.3% of Canadian couples of all ages lived in common law relationships in 2017, a three-fold increase from 1981 (6.3%).

The decline continues. The population of Canada in 2021 was 38.23 million, and only 37.75% were married. However, the more interesting part is the demographic, specifically the breakdown by age group.

The group with the highest number of married couples in 2021 was 60 to 64 at 7.741%, followed closely by 55-59 at 7.692%. Consider that the average length of marriage in Canada is 15.3 years and the average age at marriage is 30.7 in 2020. A reasonable assumption would be that a significant number of married Canadians in these age groups had a first marriage, divorced, and remarried.

On the other hand, marriages among Canadians aged 25-29 declined from 35.7% to 20.9% between 1996 and 2016. These include same-sex couples after 2005. Common-law relationships increased from 16.9% to 23%, while non-married or common-law couples rose from 47.4% to 56.1%.


How Canadians Feel About Marriage

Marriage and divorce are two sides of the family structure in Canada and most countries. The spectre of divorce constantly hovers over the heads of married couples, but it is what it is.

However, the decline in marriage rates among young Canadians resulted in a corresponding drop in divorce rates. In 2020, there was a 25% drop in the number of married people across Canada and 36% in Ontario. The highest recorded decline was in 1987, following an amendment to the Divorce Act. It reduced the mandatory separation period from three years to one before applying for a divorce.


In other words, the decline in divorce is not due to married couples getting along better or even the pandemic. It is primarily due to fewer people getting married.

For instance, 33.3% of Quebec households were single-person in 2016, up from 32.2% in 2011. The number of common-law couples also increased from 37.8% in 2011 to 39.9% in 2016. 

The situation is similar in Ontario to a lesser degree for the same period. Single-person households increased from 25.2% to 25.9%, and common-law couples from 13.1% to 14.4%.

It isn’t due to just young people, either. Cohabitation in Quebec is highest among couples 65 and older (59.9%) compared to 20 to 34-year-olds (43.5%). In Ontario, the rate is even higher among couples 65 and older (63.3% ) compared to 20 to 34-year-olds (36.3%).

This decline in marriage numbers is primarily due to how Canadians feel about the institution. A Cardus report on the 2017 General Social Survey by Statistics Canada concluded most people no longer believe in marriage. It focused on respondents between 25 and 34 years old, as the mean age of first marriage is about 30.

Among men aged 25-34, 48.2% indicated this was why they preferred to live with their partner without marrying them. The number was 39.1% for partnered women.

Other reasons for not marrying include the following responses (men, women):


      • Current situation is fine as is (13.2%, 29.2%)

      • Wedding – preparations, cost (16.5%, 10.5%)

      • Other – write-in option- (11.6%, 5.4%)

      • Partner does not want to (3.1%, 8.5%)

      • Maintain financial independence (2.6%, 2.8%)

      • Does not want to commit emotionally (1.7%, 0.8%)

      • Never thought about it (1.6%, 1.4%)

      • Relationship is too recent/fragile (1%, 0.3%)

      • Past experience/complications related to divorce (0.5%, 2.1%)

    On the flip side, most respondents (men – 52.4%; women – 41.9%) in the same age group married or will marry as proof of love and commitment. Respondents’ interpretations of this option were varied.

    Some considered marriage the next logical step to take with their loved ones. Others believed marriage is mutual proof of that love and commitment. Finally, some couples felt marriage was a way to declare their relationship state to the community. This indicates the significant role personal and cultural influences play in the decision to marry.

    Other reasons to get married included the following responses (men, women):


        • Cultural/moral/religious beliefs (18.9%, 27.7%)

        • Next step/logical advancement of the relationship (10.1%, 10.1%)

        • Living together without being married was not socially acceptable (4.6%, 3.0%)

        • To make the relationship official (4%, 5%)

        • Other – write-in option (3.6%, 3.2%)

        • Spouse wanted to (2.4%, 2.5%)

        • To have children/adopt (2.1%, 4.3%)

        • Legal protection/financial security (1.9%, 2.4%)

        • Cultural/moral/religious beliefs (18.9%, 27.7%)

        • Next step/logical advancement of the relationship (10.1%, 10.1%)

        • Living together without being married was not socially acceptable (4.6%, 3.0%)

        • To make the relationship official (4%, 5%)

        • Other – write-in option (3.6%, 3.2%)

        • Spouse wanted to (2.4%, 2.5%)

        • To have children/adopt (2.1%, 4.3%)

        • Legal protection/financial security (1.9%, 2.4%)


      Data on Common-Law Relationships



      Statistics Canada released its 2021 census data on July 26, 2022. The Marital Status data for 2021 and 2016 show a gain in the number of common-law relationships in the country. The 2016 Census puts the percentage of common-law couples at 12%.

      The 2021 Census also indicated it has risen to 12.6%. The difference represents about 185,000 more people in common-law unions in 2021 than in 2016. Note that the data also shows one person in every 250 couples is transgender or non-binary.

      Since Statistics Canada began tracking common-law couples in 1981, their numbers have grown five-fold in 40 years. The number of married couples has also increased in the same period, but not as substantial, growing by just 25%.

      Regarding children, roughly 41% of couples in cohabitation have at least one child. That is significantly lower than the 52.5% of married couples with children. Based on these statistics, it would be reasonable to expect the Canadian population to drop.

      The incidence of common-law couples is not uniform across the provinces and territories. The highest percentage of common-law relationships is in Quebec (23.3%) and Nunavut (25.85%). The lowest are in Ontario (8.61%) and Manitoba (9.25%). 

      However, most provinces are experiencing an increase in common-law relationships from 2016 to 2021, except for Alberta, Northwest Territories, and, surprisingly, Nunavut.

      Analysts attribute this drop to societal changes, most like the secularization of Canada away from the religious basis of marriage. Many common-law couples had been married and had no children and are exploring other options.

      The decline in the number of couples with children also reflects the decision of Canadians to enter a relationship when they’re older. Currently, the average age of first marriage is 30.7, making it less likely that they would have children.

      Data on Common-Law Relationships


      Image Source: Pexels

      Unions and Common-Law Relationships Among Minority Groups

      Canada has a diverse population if one is to believe the depiction of interracial couples in TV ads. However, finding out how diverse is a matter of extrapolation. 

      The Census of Canada does not require respondents to specify their race. However, they are asked to state whether they are part of a visible minority. Based on the responses of a number of people on the 2016 Census, 22% of Canadians identify as a visible minority.

      Additionally, the data shows that 7.3% of all unions in Canada are heterogamous, meaning they are of mixed race. These unions include common-law couples and those in a civil marriage, with a majority (6.7%) between a white and visible minority. 

      In most cases, couples in a heterogamous union are highly educated and live in urban areas. Among white-visible minority couples, one-third (34.2%) have a university degree and live in a metropolitan area (76.2%).

      In all these unions, the vast majority are couples of the opposite sex. However, compared to homogamous (same race) unions (0.9% for white, 0.2% for visible minorities), white-visible minority unions have a higher proportion of same-sex couples at 2%.

      Regarding countries of origin, 16% of heterogamous couples are from different countries. In 12% of these couples, one partner was born in Canada.

      Unions and Common-Law Relationships Among Minority Groups


      Image Source: Pexels

      Child Marriages in Canada

      The Civil Marriage Act prohibits the marriage of anyone under 16. Yet it defines child marriage as a civil marriage or common-law union of anyone under 18. In effect, child marriage is legal in Canada, and the incidence is increasing.

      Some provinces such as Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick set the minimum age to marry at 18. However, they allow marriage for a child of 16 with the consent of parents or guardians.

      That explains why, according to the 2021 Census, there were 2,549 married couples between the ages of 16 and 17. However, the data doesn’t explain why 20 children aged 15 were legally married (one separated) in Canada. Furthermore, 191 15-year-olds were in a common-law union. The incidence has remained steady from 2017 to 2021.

      When combining the marital status of all children under 18 in 2021, 146 were legally married (10 separated). Couples in a cohabitation arrangement numbered 2,423, comprising the vast majority of child unions at 94.31%. 

      Regarding gender, females are much more likely to be in a child marriage or union. For 15-year-olds, for instance, there were 15 females in a civil marriage compared to 4 males. Among common-law couples, there were 116 females against 75 males.

      Researchers used data from vital statistics agencies to show that child marriage is prevalent across the country. They are also more likely to happen to Canadian-born children. However, the location significantly impacted the number of marriages or common-law unions involving children.

      Ontario (32) and Alberta (43) had the most number of legally married minors. However, when looking at the rates based on the population, Manitoba (0.04%) beat Alberta (0.03%). Cohabitation incidence was highest in Ontario (622) and Quebec (538). When combining all types of child unions, Saskatchewan has the highest prevalence at 0.5% of the population.

      Marriage vs. Common-Law Relationships for LGB Couples

      According to Statistics Canada, about 900,000 Canadians identified as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) in 2021, based on 2015-2018 data. They represent 3.2% of the population aged 15 and older. Individuals who identified as bisexual (1.8%) are slightly more than those who identify as gay or lesbian (1.5%).

      Most of the LGB community live in urban areas because these often have LGB-friendly communities. About half (46.5%) of the lesbian and gay population live in major metropolitan centers such as Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. Bisexual people represent a smaller contingent (37.9%) in these big cities.

      Aside from being socially open to the LGB population, Canada is also legally receptive. Almost half (46.8%) of the LGB population between the ages of 25 and 64 are in a same-sex marriage or common-law union.

      However, the civil marriage rates of the LGB population are lagging behind that of heterosexuals. Despite same-sex marriage being legal since 2005, only 23% of bisexual and 17.1% of lesbian and gay people are married. Heterosexuals clock in at 55.7%.

      As it turns out, 30.8% of gay and lesbian people and 22.8% of bisexuals prefer to be in common-law relationships. By comparison, only 15.5% of heterosexuals are common-law couples. Interestingly, the biggest portion of the LGB community is single. A full 45.3% of lesbians and gays and 44.1% of bisexuals have never married and are not living in with anyone. Only 18.9% of heterosexuals are in this category.

      Did you know?

      “Approximately fifty percent of couples in a same-sex relationship are living in larger cities such as Vancouver, Ottawa-Gatineau, Toronto, and Montreal.”

      Know Your Legal Rights with Nussbaum Law 

      Marriage statistics and trends in Canada indicate a definite shift to less traditional family structures and demographic. The increasing number of married couples without children, common-law unions, and same-sex marriages is interesting from a sociological perspective.

      However, most people don’t realize that these non-traditional family and marital relationships also have legal ramifications. Cohabitation partners do not have the same legal protections as spouses in a civil union, especially regarding children and property. Married couples also have their issues, particularly in the event of a divorce.

      Love and commitment are not enough in a common-law relationship or marriage. Things can get messy if you don’t know your legal rights as a partner or spouse.

      Nussbaum Law can help educate you. We specialize in all family law matters and issues in Ontario, including drawing up marriage contracts and cohabitation agreements. Visit our site to access valuable resources for family law, marriage, divorce, separation, and cohabitation. 

      If you still have concerns or questions, we’ll be happy to address them. You can contact us through live chat, phone, or face-to-face. You can also get started online without committing to anything by answering a few questions here.

      If you have any legal issues, questions, or concerns about your marriage or cohabitation in Canada, we’re here to help. Contact our legal team today for assistance. 

      FAQs on Marriage Statistics in Canada

      Which gender accounts for more marriages?

      According to Statistics Canada, there have been consistently more married men than women since 2000. That makes no sense, as same-sex marriage only became legal in Canada in 2005.

      What do Canadians think about couples living together before marriage?

      Cohabitation is widely accepted in Canada. In fact, one survey shows that 71% of Canadian adults believe that living together before marriage is a good idea. Nineteen percent did not agree.

      Which Canadian province holds the most number of married couples?

      According to Statista, Ontario is home to the most number of married people in Canada at 6,038,872 as of 2021. That is about 41.5% of all married people. Quebec comes in at a distant second with 2,501,277.


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