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Family definitions

Economic families, unattched individuals and all units
Census families and persons not in census families
Family income
Head of family
Major income earner
Family classification
Elderly family
Non-elderly family
Married couples/Spouses
Lone-parent family
Other relative


In general terms a dwelling is defined as a set of living quarters. A private dwelling is a separate set of living quarters with a private access. A collective dwelling may be institutional, communal or commercial in nature. Of the different types of collective dwellings, only communal dwellings are covered in the SLID and the SCF.


A household is defined as a person or group of persons residing in a dwelling.


Adults are defined in SLID as 16 or older as of December 31st of the reference year, and in SCF they are defined as 15 or older at the time the person entered the Labour Force Survey sample, which was approximately 6 months prior to the interview in April. The impact of this conceptual difference is negligible.

Economic families, unattached individuals, and all units

An economic family is defined as a group of two or more persons who live in the same dwelling and are related to each other by blood, marriage, common-law or adoption. An unattached individual is a person living either alone or with others to whom he or she is unrelated, such as roommates or a lodger. The total of economic families and unattached individuals may be referred to as either "all units" or “economic families composed of one or more persons”.

Census families and persons not in census families

The term “census family” corresponds to what is commonly referred to as a “nuclear family” or “immediate family”. In general, it consists of a married couple or common-law couple with or without children, or a lone-parent with a child or children; furthermore, each child does not have his or her own spouse or child living in the household.

SLID uses a slightly different definition of census families from that used by the SCF. In this definition, the restriction that a “child” of a parent in a census family must be under the age of 25 has been added. There must now also be a parent-child relationship (guardian relationships such as aunt or uncle are not sufficient). The previous restriction that the child must never have been legally married has been dropped. Data drawn from the SCF still use the earlier definition.

Persons “not in census families” are those living alone, living with unrelated individuals, or living with relatives but not in a husband-wife or parent-unmarried child (including guardianship-child) relationship.

By definition, all persons who are members of a census family are also members of the same economic family.

Family income

Family income is the sum of income of each adult in the family as defined above. Household income is likewise the sum of incomes of all adults in the household. Family and household membership is defined at a particular point in time, while income is based on the entire calendar year. The family members or “composition” may have changed during the reference year, but no adjustment is made to family income to reflect this.

SLID defines households and families according to the living arrangements on December 31 of the reference year, while SCF defined them at the time of the survey, which was the following April. Residents of Canada are also defined at those points in time. This timing difference is not believed to have a major impact.

The manner in which relationship or membership information is collected differs between the two surveys, but both approaches should yield the same results. The SCF information was taken from the Labour Force Survey and was the relationship of each person to a specific individual, called the reference person. SLID collects the relationship between every pair of individuals in a household.

Head of family

SCF has a concept of “head of family” which does not exist in SLID (see “Major income earner”). Unlike the concept of major income earner which SLID uses, it is based on relationships, rather than who receives income and of what type or how much. The following rules determine the head of family. If the economic family consists of only one census family, then only the first two rules are necessary. All references to married relationships include legally married and common-law relationships.

  • In families consisting of a married couple (with or without children or other relatives), the man is the “head”.
  • In lone-parent families with unmarried children, the parent is the “head”.
  • In lone-parent families with married children, the member who is mainly responsible for the maintenance of the family, as identified in a survey question, is the “head”.
  • In families where relationships are other than husband-wife or parent-child, normally the eldest in the family is considered the head.

Major income earner

This characteristic is important for the derivation of detailed family types (see "Family classification"). The SCF used the concept of “head of family”. For each household and family, the major income earner is the person with the highest income before tax, with one exception: a child living in the same census family as his/her parent(s) cannot be identified as the major income earner of the census family (this does not apply to economic families).

For persons with negative total income before tax, the absolute value of their income is used, to reflect the fact that negative incomes generally arise from losses “earned” in the market-place and are not meant to be sustained. In the rare situations where two persons have exactly the same income, the older person is the major income earner.

Family classification

SLID has adopted the basic classification used in SCF, although other family types can be derived using the SLID internal files. SLID uses the “major income earner” as opposed to “head of family”, where these concepts are relevant (see the notes following the classification), but this is believed to have a minimal impact.

Table B
Classification of family types
Economic families (or Census families), 2 persons or more
  Elderly families    
    Married couples  
    Other elderly families  
  Non-elderly families  
    Married couples without children
      No earner  
      One earner  
      Two earners
    Two-parent families with children
      No earner  
      One earner  
      Two earners
      Three or more earners
    Married couples with other relatives
    Lone-parent families  
      Male lone-parent families
      Female lone-parent families
        No earner
        One earner
        Two or more earners
    Other non-elderly families

Unattached individuals (or Persons not in census families)

Elderly male Non-earner
Elderly female Non-earner
Non-elderly male Non-earner
Non-elderly female Non-earner

Within this classification, the following definitions apply. Note that wherever the term "major income earner" is used, the term "head of family" should be substituted in the case of SCF data.

Elderly family: The major income earner is aged 65 or over.

Non-elderly family: The major income earner is under age 65.

Married couples/Spouses: Married couples, including legally married, common-law and same-sex relationships, where one of the spouses is the major income earner.

Children: A child or children (by birth, adopted, step, or foster) of the major income earner under age 18. Other relatives may also be in the family.

Lone-parent family: Includes at least one child as defined above. Families where the parent is 65 years or older are excluded.

Relative: A person related to the major income earner by blood, marriage, adoption or common-law.

Other relative: A person in the economic family who is not the major income earner nor his/her spouse or child under age 18.

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Date Modified: 2008-10-17 Important Notices