Canada’s Shifting Linguistic and Household Structure: New Insights from the 2016 Census


The latest tranche of data released by Statistics Canada and based on the 2016 census shows an increasingly diverse country when it comes to language, households, and marital status.

Canada’s welcoming immigration policy has resulted in a more diverse linguistic environment, with an increasing proportion of Canadians (23%) speaking a language other than English or French as their “mother tongue”, Canada’s two official languages.  In Toronto, Canada’s largest city and its main immigrant gateway, 47% speak a language other than English or French. Still, more than 98% of Canada’s population could speak either English or French. Bilingualism, or the ability to speak both English and French, also increased.

Immigration and ethnic diversity within Canada has also impacted household structure, with multi-generational households (households with at least three generations of the same family) increasing, although still representing a relatively small share of total households (3%).  Instead, a larger proportion of Canadians now live alone rather than the more traditional ‘nuclear family’ of mom, dad and children. With one-person households representing 28.2% of all households, they represented the largest share of all households in Canada in 2016. Why? Greater income independence, increased female participation in the labor force, higher rates of divorce and separation, and the rise of social media as a way to stay connected are amongst the reasons for the shift in living arrangements.

Canadian household structure is changing in other ways. For those that were living with someone, married couples remained the majority, although common-law couples were increasing and represented approximately 20% of all couples in 2016. Although the proportion is small, the number of same sex couples also increased as compared to earlier censuses, reflecting the legalization of same sex marriage. A growing proportion of adult children (34.7%) between the ages of 20 and 34 were living with their parents. These so-called ‘boomerang children’ are increasingly common in other countries as well, and often reflect difficulties in the labor market, transitions between education and the workforce, or failed relationships, with the parental home offering refuge and support.

The final takeaway from the latest census numbers is that the number of couples without children is growing faster than those with children. Although there are regional variations in this, this shift represents the continued aging of Canada’s population – many households, and particularly baby boomers have aged out of their child-bearing years, and their children have moved out.

Further Reading:

Statistics Canada. Families, households and marital status: Key results from the 2016 Census. The Daily, 2 August 2017. Available at:


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