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Children and youth

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On July 1, 2007, Canada had about 10.1 million people under the age of 25. About 5.6 million of them were under 15 years old, 2.2 million were aged 15 to 19, and 2.3 million were aged 20 to 24. These children and youth made up 31% of the Canadian population.

The number of youth under 25 in the Canadian population increased 1% during the last decade, but changes in different age groups have varied. For example, the number of young children under 5 fell from2.0 million in 1994 to 1.7 million in 2007. During the same period, the number of youth aged 20 to 24 increased from 2.0 million in 1994 to 2.3 million in 2007.

Although most young people under 25 were born in Canada, many were foreign-born and are immigrants. In 2006, 894,965 youth under 25 were immigrants, which comprises 9% of youth.

Immigrant youth are concentrated in Canada’s most populated census metropolitan areas (CMAs). In the Toronto and Vancouver CMAs, slightly more than one-fifth of the population under 25 was foreign-born in 2006. However, 2% of youth were immigrants in Peterborough, Ontario; Saint John, New Brunswick; and Trois-Rivières, Quebec—three of the least populated CMAs in Canada.

More children living with common-law parents

Most children still live with married parents; however, more and more children live with common-law parents. In 1981, 81% of children under 15 lived with married parents, and 5% lived with common-law parents. In 2006, 66% of children in this age group lived with married parents and 15% with common-law parents—the latter share is a threefold increase from1981. Common-law couples tend to be less stable and less likely to have children, according to the 2006General Social Survey (GSS), but they tend to be younger than married couples and their children also tend to be younger.

The proportion of children living with lone parents has also grown since the mid-1980s. About 18.3% of children under 15 lived with lone parents in 2006, a slight increase from17.8% in 2001.

Although rare, some children live under the same roof with at least one grandparent. Most of these children, 181,700 of them in 2006, lived with parents and grandparents in an extended family arrangement. A smaller number, 28,200, lived only with one or more grandparent: this group made up 0.5% of children under 15. The proportions of children living in either of these arrangements has changed little since 2001.

Most young adults aged 20 to 24 live with their parents, and they are more likely to do so today than 25 years ago. In 2006, 60% of the 2.3 million young adults in this age group lived in the parental home, compared with 49% in 1986. Only 18% of young adults aged 20 to 24 were in a couple in 2006, compared with 28% in 1986.

Women having children later

Women are waiting longer to have children, and this creates a wider age gap between mother and child. In 2003, the average age at which women had their first child was 28 years, up from an average age of 24 years during the 1960s.

Married mothers of children aged 4 and under are slightly older: in 2006, the most common age group for married mothers of young children was 30 to 34 years, while it was 25 to 29 years for lone mothers and mothers living common-law.

A growing proportion of children under 5 have a mother in her forties, whereas the proportion of children with a younger mother is decreasing. In 2001, 8% of children under 5 had a mother aged 40 to 49; this proportion reached 9% in 2006. Conversely, in 2001, 12% of children in this age group had a mother who was under 25, compared with 10% in 2006.

Fewer children in low-income families

Fewer children under 18 lived in low-income families in 2005 than in 1996. An estimated 788,000 children under 18 lived in low-income families in 2005, down from 1.3 million in 1996. About 12% of children under 18 lived in a low-income family in 2005, well under the record of 19% in 1996.

In 2005, of 320,000 children living in low-income families, slightly less than half lived in female lone-parent families. The low-income rate of children in female lone-parent families was more than four times that of children living in two-parent families. However, the low-income rate for these children fell in the space of a year from40% in 2004 to 33% in 2005.

Active and healthy children

Many children aged 4 and 5 participated in regularly scheduled activities outside school hours. In 2004/2005, participation in sports with a coach or instructor was the most common activity: 38% of girls and 46% of boys took part at least once a week. The boys’ share was significantly higher than in 2000/2001, when it was 38%.

In 2004/2005, girls (43%) were more likely than boys (21%) to take regular lessons in dance, gymnastics or martial arts. The share of girls practising these activities was up sharply from37% in 2000/2001.

A little less popular were music, art and other non-sport activities, which attracted about 11% of boys and 17% of girls in 2004/2005. About 15% of 4- and 5-year-olds participated in clubs, groups or community programs.

According to their parents, the majority of 4-year-olds looked at magazines, comics or books by themselves every day at home, but a gender gap is apparent: 77% of girls spent time with such printed materials every day, compared with 61% of boys.

Young children who are surrounded by reading material, who see adults reading regularly and who are read to at a very early age often develop their own appetite for reading. This seems to have been the environment for most 4- and 5-year-olds in 2004/2005: about 60% had an adult read to them every day.

Canadian parents of 4- and 5-year-olds generally reported that their children were in good health in 2004/2005. Most boys (89%) and girls (92%) were in ‘excellent’ or very good’ health, according to their parents.

However, asthma and chronic allergies are prevalent among today’s children. In 2004/2005, 18% of boys and 9% of girls had received a diagnosis of asthma at some point in their lives. Sixteen percent of boys and 10% of girls had chronic allergies, according to their parents.

Only small proportions of 4- and 5-year-olds had physical challenges such as difficulty seeing, hearing, walking or being understood when speaking. For example, 8% of boys and 5% of girls aged 4 and 5 had difficulty being understood when speaking.