Saturday, September 22, 2007

Census paints "bleak picture" of Canadian families, says Focus rep

By Jim Coggins @

THE 2006 Canadian census is "a warning call to policymakers, social workers and churches" to take action to safeguard the future of the Canadian family, according to Dave Quist, executive director of the Institute of Marriage and the Family Canada, an arm of Focus on the Family.

The media have made much of the fact that, for the first time in history, a majority -- 51.5 percent -- of Canadians over age 15 are single, according to a census report released September 12. The figure includes young people and the widowed -- anyone who is not currently married.

The census "paints a bit of a bleak picture," said Quist, but he added, "I don't think the family is in any danger of going away."

Quist noted that 68.8 percent of families still consist of children being raised by a mother and father. That is down somewhat from previous surveys, but still over two-thirds of families.

Another 15.9 percent are single-parent families. That is up only slightly from 15.7 percent in 2001, but it is "still a large group of people," said Quist.

The problem, he said, is the majority of these families are "at or below the poverty line." The 2.1 million children in these families have less opportunity to receive a good education and get a good job and as a result enter "a downward spiral."

There are two reasons for the increase in such families, said Quist. One is the early sexual encounters by teenagers, many of whom have babies and never finish high school. The other is the dramatic increase in the divorce rate following the passing of the Divorce Act in 1968 and the introduction of no-fault divorce in 1985. Single-parent families were at their lowest level -- 8.2 percent -- in 1966.

While some have fared better than others, the children of divorce from the 1970s and 1980s "carry a lot of baggage. No children do well in divorce," said Quist.

Another 15.5 percent of families are headed by couples living common law, more than double the 7.2 percent who fit this description two decades ago.

Statistics show that married couples "live longer, are healthier, and define themselves as happier" than common-law couples, said Quist. Children whose parents are married have less early sex and are less susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse, he added. "Common law is not the same as marriage."

For the first time, the 2006 census counted same-sex couples and found 45,345 of them, including 7,465 who were married. Same-sex couples represent only about 0.6 percent of all couples.

This is a far smaller percentage than activists had claimed, said Quist. While the numbers are not large, the legal recognition of such unions is another step in the erosion of the family, he added. Same-sex families, he asserted, probably share many of the same negative tendencies as common-law families and the results of this social experiment, like liberalized divorce, won't be seen until 20 to 30 years down the road.

Where have all the children gone?

For the first time, families comprised of couples without children under age 25 living at home (42.7 percent) outnumber families composed of couples with children (41.4 percent). There is also a significant increase in the number of one-person households.

People are delaying both marriage and having children until they have established their careers, paid off their student loans and bought a home, said Quist.

The result is that the current birth rate of 1.7 children per couple is well below the 2.1 children required to maintain the population, he added. When the baby boomers begin retiring in a few years, there are going to be "strong economic stresses" on the nation as a whole, and many may not be able to retire when they want to because there won't be enough younger people to support them at the level they are used to.

The common denominator in all of these changes to the Canadian family, said Quist, is a decrease in the level of commitment. "Instead of saying, "What can I contribute?' people are saying, 'What can I get out of it?' It's all about me."

Being a husband and father is "the most wonderful thing in the world," said Quist, but "being married is hard work. Raising kids is hard work. It's not a fairy tale. Somebody has to take out the garbage, cut the lawn, take care of cut knees and snotty noses. It's tiring."

"Our society is very individual," he added. The people who live alone in big cities and "hardly know anyone" in their neighbourhoods or apartment buildings are an indication that there is a decline in community as well as family, he suggested. "Strong families mean a strong nation."

In spite of the negative trends, Quist said he doesn't expect the traditional family to disappear. However, he said it is important that government "find ways to support families" and reverse the trends. For instance, government could use "income splitting" to leave more money with families and allow more parents to follow their number one choice, which is to have one parent stay home and raise their children.

It is also important for churches to increase their support for families, Quist added, by organizing family retreats, pool parties, pizza nights, and outreaches to divorced people -- for people outside as well as those inside the church. Noting that the divorce rate is as high among churched people as unchurched, he added that the church also needs to work with families inside the church: "The church is made up of hurting people."

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