Family forms have always been diverse. Traditionally, sociologists have contrasted the nuclear family, consisting of a parent or parents and children, with the extended family, including relatives beyond the nuclear family, such as grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. An alternative and more neutral distinction is that between simple and complex households. A simple household consists of unrelated adults, with or without children (e.g., a single adult or cohabitating couple with or without children). A complex household includes two or more adults who are related, but not married to each other and hence could reasonably be expected to live separately (e.g., parents living with their adult children or adult siblings living together).
Over the last few decades, the structure and function of Canadian families have changed considerably. Nine major changes to the Canadian family are identified:
- The marriage rate is decreasing while the cohabitation rate is increasing. The crude marriage rate, the number of marriages per 1,000 people, is decreasing. The number of common-law (or cohabiting) unions, on the other hand, is rising. In 2015 almost 48 per cent of Canadians over the age of 18 were married, while just over 11 per cent lived in common-law unions.
- The average age at first marriage has been increasing steadily for men and women.
- There are more divorces overall, but the divorce rate itself is falling, which is, in part, a function of fewer people getting married.
- Choices surrounding parenthood are changing. More and more women delay bearing children and an increasing number of women are in their thirties when they give birth for the first time.
- The total fertility rate of Canadian women, defined as average number of children a cohort of women age 15–49 will have, has been in decline. The fertility rate has now dropped below the replacement rate, the rate at which children must be born to maintain the current population.
- Related to the declining fertility rate, couples without children now outnumber couples with children.
- While the metaphor of the empty nest suggests that parents have to readjust once their children have moved out, an increasing number of adult children are living now with their parents for longer periods of time due to prolonged education, high costs of living, and gig economy. This phenomenon of the children returning to stay with their parents is referred to as the cluttered nest.
- The number of lone-parent families has been steadily increasing since the 1960s which is concerning as the poverty rate of lone-parent families, particularly female-headed ones is high.
- There are also more people living alone than in the past, with the highest rate being among those 85 and older.
Statistically, families in Quebec are distinct from families in the rest of Canada. In 2005, Quebec families had the lowest marriage, the highest cohabitation, and divorce rates. As a consequence, Quebec sees the highest rate of births to single mothers. The Québécois also have high rates for pre- and extramarital sex, as well as same sex marriage. It seems that, as Quebec has gone through a rapid process of modernization in recent decades, it is at the forefront of redefining family, along with other political, religious, and educational institutions.
Conjugal (or marital) roles are defined as the distinctive roles of the husband and wife that result from the division of labour within the family. British sociologist Elizabeth Bott (1957) categorized these roles as either segregated, where tasks, interests, and activities are clearly different, or joint, where many tasks, interests, and activities are shared. More recently, Canadian sociologist Rod Beaujot (2000) looked at roles as either complementary roles (Bott’s term for segregated roles) with one partner doing paid work and the other responsible for housework and childcare or companionate roles (Bott’s term for joint roles) with both partners working outside the home and sharing housework. Beaujot noted that a shift is occurring from complementary to companionate roles, though it is far from complete. Moreover, gender and family roles vary from one cultural group to the next, and some ethnic groups adhere more to complementary roles than others. Married women do more total work than married men, particularly more unpaid work. The additional responsibility for the majority housework on top of paid work is referred to as the double burden, or second shift. The term double ghetto describes the marginalization working women experience inside and outside the home. As well, women’s responsibility for childcare contributes to occupational segregation, with women choosing to work in fields that have the greatest flexibility for work interruptions related to childcare. Such jobs, however, pay lower wages and provide fewer advancement opportunities.
Endogamy is the practice of marrying within one’s ethnic, religious, or cultural group. It contrasts exogamy, which is marrying outside one’s group. Support for exogamy in Canada is increasing. However, there is a strong tradition among some ethnic groups to practice endogamy. Both immigrant and indigenous families have been negatively affected by Canadian policies. Head taxes and immigration restrictions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries prevented Chinese and South Asian families from reuniting in Canada. Canadian sociologists Ann Duffy and Nancy Mandell note that women of colour who came to Canada as domestic workers were denied family through immigration policies which often required that women be single and childless in order to work and live in Canada.
Racist government policies targeting Indigenous Canadians have often focused directly and indirectly on the family. For example, during the early twentieth century, Indian Agents withheld food rations to enforce monogamy on Indigenous men. Indigenous families were also affected by policies of forced sexual sterilization (considered a form of genocide by the United Nations). Reflecting a belief in eugenics, a form of scientific racism, sterilization laws were passed in Alberta (The Sexual Sterilization Act, 1928–72) and British Columbia to prevent those deemed “mentally defective” from reproduction. Indigenous and Métis people accounted for a disproportionately high number of the sterilized, while eastern European immigrants were also targeted. Later, Residential Schools were established to keep Indigenous children away from the (assumed harmful) influence of their parents. Starting in the late nineteenth century and continuing through the 1980s, this system forcibly kept children at Christian boarding schools for most, if not all, of the year and discouraged parents from visiting, thus leading to long-term family separation, dislocation, and estrangement. Children sent to these schools were often physically, emotionally, and sexually abused by staff. Beginning in the 1960s, Indigenous children were also taken from their families through a practice known as the Sixties Scoop which involved removing Indigenous children from their communities and placing them in non-Indigenous adoptive or foster homes.
After reading chapter ten, you will be able to
- Distinguish between different family and household forms.
- Describe nine central changes in Canadian families.
- Discuss the ways in which families in Québec differ from families in the rest of Canada.
- Compare and contrast different conjugal roles.
- Understand the role of ethnicity in determining conjugal roles.
- Analyze the impact of men’s educational background on sharing housework.
- Explain the difference between endogamy and exogamy using examples.
- Describe how immigration patterns and policies shaped the structure and functioning of immigrant families.
- Provide examples of government policies that negatively impacted the structure and functioning of Indigenous families in Canada.
- Acknowledge the spread of child marriage not only in the Middle East and North Africa, but also in North America.