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Social conditions

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Canadians’ sense of belonging to their community and their country, their participation in civic, community and volunteer activities, the social and family relationships they have with one another, and the presence of a social safety net equally available to all citizens are important components associated with our well-being as citizens.

In 2003, most Canadians described their sense of belonging to their local community in positive terms. That’s good news because a sense of belonging is closely linked to self-assessed health status. People who had lived in a region for at least five years were more likely to report a very strong sense of belonging to it.

About 85% of Canadians reported their sense of belonging to Canada as being ‘very strong’ or ‘somewhat strong’. The majority of Canadians also said they felt a similar sense of belonging to their province, though the percentages were lower.

A matter of trust

Chart: How Canadians describe their sense of belonging to Canada, their province and their community, 2003Overall, 53% of Canadians said that in general people can be trusted, whereas 43% said that one cannot be too careful in dealing with other people. Quebeckers were less inclined to trust people but more likely to express confidence in institutions.

In 2003, the vast majority of Canadians reported that they have at least one relative or friend with whom they are close. About one in three Canadians said that in the month before the survey they had met between one and five new acquaintances with whom they intended to stay in touch, while 7% of Canadians had met six or more new acquaintances.

Individuals aged 25 to 54 with higher levels of education and higher incomes are more likely to use the Internet to communicate with family and friends. Recent immigrants are more likely than other Canadians to use the Internet to communicate with their relatives, most likely because the Internet is a cost-effective way to stay in touch with family living in other countries.

In 2003, more than one in four Canadians said that they knew most of the people living in their neighbourhood, while 16% said they know many of them. Residents of rural areas are more likely than urban dwellers to know their neighbours, to trust them and to have done volunteer work. However, rural residents are not much more likely to have helped each other, to be members of volunteer organizations or groups, or to trust people in general.

Around 7% of Canadians aged 65 or older live in health care institutions. In a national survey, participation in social activities and feeling close to at least one staff member were significantly related to positive self-perceived health among institutionalized seniors.

According to 2002/2003 research on seniors, widowers are 70% more likely to die than men who are married or living with a partner. The protective effects of marriage for men—an indicator of social support and social integration—with respect to mortality has been widely observed. No such protective effect exists for women.

Caring and involved citizens

Chart: Participation in selected political activities, by age group, 2003In 2000, some 6.5 million Canadians, or 27% of the population aged 15 and over, reported doing volunteer work during the previous year. On average, each volunteer contributed 162 hours in 2000, up from 149 hours in 1997.

People aged 65 and over spent the most hours doing volunteer work, whereas 15- to 24-year-olds spent the fewest. As well, people who indicated a strong religious commitment were more likely than those not going to church to do volunteer work, and to spend more time doing such work.

Just over half of the population aged 15 and over said that they belonged to or participated in at least one community organization in 2000, the same proportion as in 1997.

Over the last 20 years or so, the participation rate for federal elections has dropped, from 75% in 1988 down to slightly over 61% in 2000 and 2004.

However, more than one in four Canadians signed a petition or sought information about a political issue in 2003. One in five had attended a public meeting or had boycotted or chosen a product for ethical reasons. And some individuals had expressed their views on an issue by contacting a newspaper or politician, or had participated in a demonstration or a protest march.

People under the age of 30, university graduates and high-income earners were more likely to have taken part in political activities other than elections.

Government transfers to assist Canadians

Chart: Average annual volunteer hours, by provinceThe federal, provincial and local governments assist Canadians through government transfers, which include a wide range of programs, including Employment Insurance, Old Age Security, Canada Child Tax Benefits, social assistance, workers’ compensation, grants to charitable organizations, the Canada Pension Plan, the Quebec Pension Plan and others.

In 2003, government transfers totalled more than $91 billion, up from $79 billion in 2000. Government transfers have increased recently in every program except social assistance for income maintenance and war veterans’ allowances.

For example, from 2000 to 2003, Employment Insurance benefits rose by more than $3 billion to $12.6 billion, while funding for Old Age Security increased by $3.3 billion, reaching $26 billion in 2003. Also, family and youth allowances, including child tax benefits and credits, totalled almost $8 billion in 2003, compared with $6.5 billion in 2000.