September 19, 2020

Cohabitating more desirable than getting hitched

Common-law unions not enough to offset the decreases in marriage, analyst says
By Misty Harris, Postmedia News December 17, 2011

Mortgages without marriages are increasingly common for Canadian couples, with two new reports suggesting a walk down the aisle is no longer essential to live Happily Ever After.

A release by Statistics Canada shows the number of commonlaw couplings between 2001 and 2006 grew at a pace more than five times that of married partnerships.

The former living arrangement was most popular with 25-to 29-year-olds, who represented nearly a quarter of all common-law unions in 2006 – more than triple their share in 1981 – while some of the most rapid growth in such pairings was seen among women and men in their early 60s.

“We’re consistently seeing more people living in commonlaw over the census years. It’s increasing for each age group, across each generation,” says Anne Milan, senior analyst in demography at Statistics Canada.

“There might be a desire to be part of a couple, but not with the perceived emotional or social obligations of marriage.”

In the five years before 2006, the number of married couples rose 3.5 per cent, compared to 19 per cent for common-law unions. Although most women in couples, overall, were married in 2006 (82 per cent), common-law arrangements were the predominant choice among those aged 20 to 24.

Canadians younger than 60 are also “coupling off” less than in 1981, which similarly factors into the erosion of wedlock.

“Even though we see more common-law unions, they’re not enough to offset the decreases we’re seeing in marriage,” Milan said.

The findings dovetail with a new report by international marketing communications firm JWT, which cites “Marriage Optional” among the top-10 social trends heading into the new year.

“More education among women is leading to better career prospects, which enables upward mobility and independent living,” says Ann Mack, JWT’s director of trend-spotting. “Women don’t necessarily need men, or need to couple in a wedded relationship, in order to have a good quality of life today.”

Statistics Canada reports the proportion of women 25-54 with a bachelor’s or graduate degree more than doubled, to 28 per cent, between 1990 and 2009. At the same time, the proportion of women who didn’t complete high school plummeted to just nine per cent from 26 per cent.

But even as trends in education and employment are contributing to common-law unions, marriage isn’t necessarily being ruled out.

University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby, who has closely tracked Canadian social trends for four decades, says national surveys still show the vast majority of young people intend to marry – and hope to stay with that person for a lifetime. Nevertheless, about 77 per cent of millennials (who are now entering their 20s) approve of unmarried couples living together, while 53 per cent are comfortable with common-law couples having kids.

No less than 30 per cent of those young people said they expected to live with a partner, but not marry them; one in four of those were youths who hoped to eventually get hitched.

“(But) for the vast majority of older and younger Canadians, it’s not a substitute for marriage.”

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