Study: Profile of parents in stepfamilies, 2011

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In September 2012, data on the family structure and number of children in stepfamilies were released from the 2011 Census of Population, marking the first time information on stepfamilies had been collected in the census. A new report available today examines in more detail the characteristics of parents or stepparents in stepfamilies gathered by the 2011 General Social Survey (GSS).

Parents in stepfamilies differ from those in intact families in many respects. For example, the median age of parents in stepfamiles when they entered their current union was 33 for women and 36 for men. For parents in intact families, the median age was 25 for women and 28 for men.

By definition, parents in stepfamilies are more likely to have had more than one conjugal union in their lifetime. According to the GSS data, three-quarters of parents in stepfamilies were in their second or third union, compared with 16% of parents in intact families.

Over time, it has become more common for parents in stepfamilies to have children together. In 2011, 43% of parents in stepfamilies had children who were born or adopted into their current union, up from 34% in 2001.

Stepfamily parents were over three times more likely to be in a common-law union than intact-family parents. About 48% of parents in stepfamilies were living common-law in 2011, compared with 14% among parents in intact families.

There was no significant difference between the distribution of family income of parents in stepfamilies and those in intact families. On the other hand, parents in stepfamilies were somewhat more active in the labour force. In 2011, 85% of stepfamily parents were employed, compared with 80% of intact-family parents.

Both partners were employed in the case of 68% of stepfamily parents, and 61% in the case of intact-family parents. In 2011, 85% of stepfamily parents who worked full time had a spouse who also worked full time, compared with 77% of parents in intact families.

In 2011, 18% of stepfamily parents reported they were unable to meet a scheduled financial obligation at least once in the year prior to the survey, compared with 11% of intact-family parents. These obligations included making rent or mortgage payments, paying an electric, gas or water bill, or repaying a consumer loan.

Roughly 6 in 10 parents in both stepfamilies and intact families reported they had delayed payments when they were unable to meet a deadline.

In addition, 21% of parents in stepfamilies identified financial concerns as the main source of stress in their daily lives, nearly twice the proportion of 12% among parents in intact families.

Note to readers

This release provides results from the 2011 General Social Survey on Families. A total of 22,435 individuals aged 15 and over participated in this survey in all 10 provinces. The target population included all non-institutionalized people, that is, individuals living in private households.

In addition to producing an overall picture of today's families in Canada, the General Social Survey collected information on transitions and challenges faced by families. Topics included leaving the parental home, conjugal history (marriages, common-law unions, separations and divorces), children (birth, adopted, step), maternity and parental leaves, child care arrangements, (re)partnering and fertility intentions, child custody and financial support arrangements for children and ex-spouses following conjugal dissolution, and work history.

Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number survey number4501.

The articles "Selected Tables on Families in Canada" and "Being a Parent in a Stepfamily: A Profile" are now available in the publication 2011 General Social Survey: Overview of Families in Canada (Catalogue number89-650-X, free). From the Key resource module of our website, choose Publications. Additional tables on families in Canada are also included in the publication.

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Statistics Canada's National Contact Centre (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 613-951-8116; or Media Relations (613-951-4636;