Attitudes to marriage have been changing in many Western countries since the 1960s and Canada is no exception. Fewer people are choosing to get married and live as common-law couples instead.

In this article, we look at the marriage rate across Canada and how the portion of married couples has changed over the years. We also compare the marriage rate in Canada to other similar countries, the income of different types of couples, and the average age of first marriage, and explore the attitudes towards marriage, among other interesting Canadian marriage statistics.

Marriage Statistics for Canadians

  • In Canada, 4.4 people out of 1,000 are married.
  • The portion of married and common-law couples in the Canadian population is almost even at 20.6% and 19.1% respectively.
  • The percentage of families with married parents has fallen from over 83% in the 1980s to 64.6% in 2021.
  • Married couples represented 77% of all couples in Canada according to the 2021 census.
  • The mean age for first marriage in Canada was 30.7 years in 2020 according to Statistics Canada.
  • Nunavut has the lowest marriage rate in Canada (2.5) and Prince Edward Island the highest (6.8).
  • Canada has the same marriage rate as New Zealand.
  • There were over 35,000 same-gender marriages in Canada in 2021.
  • Marriage is the most common relationship status among 65-74-year-old Canadians.

Marriage in Canada

The number of Canadians who choose to get married has fallen over the years. The crude marriage rate, which measures the number of married persons per 1,000 people, has fallen to 4.4 in Canada. At the start of the millennium, it was 4.7. The marriage rate in Canada was at its highest in the 1940s when it was 10.9 per 1,000 people.

The portion of married people in the whole population has declined from 30.5% in 2001 to 24.7% in 2011, and 20.6% in 2021. At the same time, the portions of people who are in common-law relationships or are not married have risen. When looking at the population aged 15 or older, 44.3% are married, while 12.6% are in common-law relationships, and 43.1% are not married or in a common-law relationship.

Since 2001, the portion of common-law couples in the whole population has increased from 16.3% to 19.1% in 2021, while the portion of not-married people increased from 53.2% to 60.3%. The group of not-married people includes those who never married or are divorced or widowed.

The increase in the portion of people who were not married is likely to have increased because of the aging population who may have lost their spouses and because fewer people are getting married or are marrying later in life.

Changes to Family Structure in Canada

Over the last decades, the family structure has been changing in Canada. While the number of married couples has declined, the number of single-parent and common-law families has increased.

In 1981, 83.1% of families in Canada had parents who were married, while 5.6% were common-law couples, and 11.3% were single-parent families. By 2000, the proportion of married families had fallen to 70.5%. It had fallen further, to 65.8% by 2016. Based on the results of the 2021 Census, 64.6% of families in Canada were married couples, 19% common-law couples, and 16.4% were single-parent families.

The Number of Common-Law Couples is Increasing Faster Than the Number of Married Couples 

Between 1981 and 2021, there has been a 447% increase in the number of common-law couples in Canada. At the same time, the number of married couples grew by only 26%. In some parts of Canada, the number of married couples decreased during the 40-period. These included Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, and New Brunswick where the number of married couples declined by 17%, 10%, and 2%, respectively.

Despite the rapid rise in the number of common-law couples and far slower growth of married couples, marriage is still the more common type of union. In 2021, 77% of all Canadian couples were married, while 23% were common-law couples.

Common-law unions are most prevalent in Nunavut, Quebec, and the Northwest Territories. 52% of couples live in common-law unions in Nunavut, 43% in Quebec, and 36% in the Northwest Territories. They all have a higher common-law couples rate than Sweden, which has the highest percentage of common-law couples at 33%.

Canadians Are Getting Married Later in Life

Canadians are getting married for the first time later in life and in 2020, the mean age for getting married was 30.7 years according to Statistics Canada. Women in Canada marry at a slightly younger age than men. Data from 2017 shows that the average age for women was 28.9 and for men 31.3. This is considerably later than in the seventies when the average age for men was in their mid-twenties and 22 years of age for women.

Considering that Nunavut has the highest percentage of common-law couples, it is hardly surprising that it has the highest mean age for first marriage. In 2019, the mean age for marriage in Nunavut was 32.4 years. Residents of Newfoundland and Labrador had the youngest mean age of marriage at 28.3 years.

On average, women get married younger than men in all provinces and territories. The highest mean ages are again in Nunavut with 31.3 years of age for women and 33.6 for men. Nunavut is followed by Quebec, which also has a high percentage of common-law couples. The mean ages in Quebec are 33 for men and 30.3 for women.

Nunavut Has the Lowest Marriage Rate in Canada

Nunavut has the lowest marriage rate in Canada because of its high percentage of common-law couples. The marriage rate in Nunavut is 2.5 in 1,000 people. It is followed by the Northwest Territories and Quebec, which also have high percentages of common-law couples with 2.7 and 2.9, respectively.

The highest marriage rate in Canada is in Prince Edward Island, where 6.8 people out of 1,000 are married. Newfoundland and Labrador has the second highest marriage rate at 5.8 and Saskatchewan and Alberta share the third place with 5.3 married people out of 1,000.

Canada’s Marriage Rate is Similar to the United Kingdom

Canada’s marriage rate of 4.4 people in 1,000, is similar to the marriage rate in the United Kingdom with a marriage rate of 4.5. It is also similar to Australia where 4.8 people in 1,000 are married. New Zealand has the same marriage rate as Canada. The United States has a higher marriage rate with 6.9 married people in 1,000.

Marriage Status by Age in Canada

The proportion of married people is highest among Canadians aged 65-74 years. 60.6% of Canadians in this age group are married and only 7.3% are in common-law relationships. 32.1% are neither married nor in a common-law relationship.
The percentage of married people falls after 74 years, most likely because of the death of the spouse. Only 31.7% of those over 85 years of age are married, while 67% are not in a cohabiting relationship.

Canadians aged between 20 and 24 years of age are the least likely to be married at 3.2%, while the most likely age group to be in a common-law relationship are the 25-29 year-olds at 25.5%.

Same-Gender Marriages Have Increased Rapidly in Canada

Since same-gender marriages were made legal in Canada, the number of people in same-gender marriages has increased rapidly. In 2006, there were 7,465 same-gender marriages in Canada and by 2011, the number had increased to 21,015.

According to the 2016 census, there were 24,370 same-gender marriages and the 2021 census recorded 35,635 same-gender marriages.

Over 20% of Canadians Consider Marriage Outdated

The percentage of Canadians who see marriage as an outdated institution has risen in recent years. In 2002, 18% of Canadians thought marriage was outdated compared to 21% in 2016. However, 47% of Canadians still thought marriage was relevant in 2016. Older Canadians (over 60 years old) were more likely to see marriage as relevant than younger Canadians (18-29 year olds) at 54% compared to 38%.

Young Canadian Men Are Most Likely to Think Marriage is Not Necessary

Overall, 53% of Canadians think that it is not necessary to get married, while 42% still see marriage as a necessity and the remaining 5% are not sure. Men aged between 18 and 34 years of age are most likely at 60% to feel that marriage is not necessary. The most likely age group among women was the 35-54 year olds at 51%.

Why do Canadians Marry?

The main reason to marry in Canada is to prove their love and commitment to both men and women. However, men are more likely to marry to prove their commitment than women in Canada. 52.4% of men said the reason for marrying their partner was to show their commitment and love compared to 41.9% of women.

Women, on the other hand, are more likely to get married because of religious, cultural, or moral beliefs. This was stated as the main reason by 27.7 % of women compared to 18.9% of men.

The third biggest reason, which was marriage as the next logical step, was chosen by 10.1% of both men and women. Other reasons included having children or adopting, legal protection, and financial security.

What Are the Main Reasons for Not Marrying?

The biggest reason given by both men and women for not marrying was that they did not believe in the institution of marriage. This was given as the main reason by 48.2% of men and 39.1% of women.

The second most popular reason among women was that they were happy with their current relationship situation. This was chosen by 29.2% of women. Only 13.2% of men said this was their main reason for not marrying.

The second most popular reason for men not to marry was the cost and preparation for a wedding. With the average wedding costing between $20,000 and $30,000, it is understandable that Canadians are choosing not to marry. 16.5% of men saw this as their main reason, while only 10.5% of women saw the wedding itself as a reason not to marry.

Conclusion

Despite undergoing some profound changes, marriage is still regarded as an important social institution by many Canadians. However, almost equally many see marriage as an outdated institution and do not consider marriage as a necessity.

Marriage is more prevalent among older Canadians, while a growing number of younger Canadians choose to not marry or are marrying older. Cohabiting as common-law partners is most common in Nunavut, Quebec, and the Northwest Territories.

Based on the statistics, it is likely that the percentage of married Canadians will continue to decrease. However, it is not likely that marriage will disappear completely while there are still many Canadians who believe in getting married to solidify their relationship.

Frequently Asked Questions

The popularity of marriage has decreased in Canada and more people in relationships are opting for common-law status. However, marriage is still more common than common-law relationships at 77% compared to 23%. Marriage is more prevalent among older Canadians.

Yes, same-gender marriages are legal in Canada and their number has grown rapidly. In 2006, there were 7,465 same-gender marriages and by 2021 there were 35,635.

The cost of weddings varies widely in Canada and each couple sets their own budget. However, the average wedding in Canada costs between $20,000 and 30,000.

Sources