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Study: Interreligious unions

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The Daily

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

With Canada's increasing cultural diversity, interreligious conjugal unions are on the rise, but the vast majority of couples still consist of partners from the same broad religious affiliation group, according to a new study.

The study, based on census data and published today in the online version of Canadian Social Trends, found that in 1981, 15% of people in couples were in an interreligious union, either marriage or common-law.

By 2001, such unions had grown to 19% of couples. Of the 14.1 million Canadians in couples, nearly 2.7 million had a partner from a different religious group.

Not surprisingly, over half of these unions were between Catholics and Protestants, the two largest broad religious groups in Canada.

The 1.3 million people in Catholic/Protestant unions represented 9.6% of all people in couples in 2001, up from 8.6% in 1981.

Unions between Catholics and Protestants were not evenly distributed geographically. In Quebec, where 83% of the population was Catholic in 2001 and only 5% Protestant, just 2% of Catholics in couples were married to, or in common-law relationships with, Protestants.

In Ontario, where there were nearly equal numbers of Catholics and Protestants, 18% of Catholics in couples were in interreligious unions with a Protestant.

The study found that the likelihood of an interreligious union was associated with where you lived, how homogeneous the religious mix of your community was, how religious you were, how traditional the doctrine of your religion was, and how long you had been in Canada.

People in communities which were religiously homogeneous and people who were highly religious were less likely to be in interreligious unions, as were immigrants and older individuals.

Many immigrants who cited Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism as their religion arrived in Canada between 1991 and 2001.

As such, they were more likely to have a strong cultural association with the marital traditions of their country of origin. In fact, for these three religious groups, interreligious unions were less likely in 2001 than in 1981.

The most common interreligious union involving a Muslim partner was with a Catholic, which represented 4% of Muslims in couples. About 71% of Muslim couples resided in Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver.

Buddhists were more likely to be in interreligious unions than Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus.

The study found that interreligious unions had become more frequent among Jewish individuals in couples. About 17% were in such unions in 2001, nearly twice the proportion of 9% two decades earlier.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 4508.

The October 2006 issue of Canadian Social Trends, no. 82 (11-008-XWE, free) is now available from the Publications module of our website.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services (613-951-5979;, Social and Aboriginal Statistics Division.