Female population

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by Anne Milan

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This chapter introduces selected socio-demographic and ethnocultural characteristics of the female population in Canada, some of which will be examined in more depth in future chapters of Women in Canada. Accounting for approximately half of the population, women and girls are characterized by different historical, social and demographic trajectories that distinguish them from men and boys in this country. In order to effectively plan and develop programs and policy directed toward women and girls, it is necessary to understand trends pertaining to population growth and age structure, as well as the consequences of these patterns on population aging and the composition of the population, and how these might vary by sex.

Among the topics to be examined in this chapter are the shares of women and girls in the total population, trends by age, including historical comparisonsNote 1 and some regional differences across the provinces and territories. Selected aspects of diversity within the female population will also be presented, including Aboriginal identity, immigrant status and visible minority status, as well as trends related to residential mobility, marital status, language and religion.

Share of the population

As of July 1, 2014, Canada’s population was comprised of slightly more females than males, at 17.9 million and 17.6 million, respectively (Table 1). Women and girls have grown in absolute numbers over the past century—from 4.3 million in 1921Note 2—and will continue to increase according to all scenarios of the most recent population projections.Note 3 Based on the medium-growth scenario of these projections, Canada could have 20.9 million females by 2031, rising further to 25.3 million by 2061.Note 4 For much of the past century, population growth has been slightly more rapid for females than for males. The male population was 4.5 million in 1921 and is projected to reach 20.5 million in 2031 and 25.0 million in 2061, with similar rates of growth for both females and males in the coming decades.

Women and girls accounted for just over half (50.4%) of the total population on July 1, 2014. Throughout much of the 20th Century, however, females comprised less than half of the population. In 1921, females represented 48.5% of the population. Historically, however, the share of females in the population fluctuated at different ages, as circumstances were more or less favourable to one sex or the other. In 1921, for example, the proportion of women aged 19 to 25 exceeded 50% of the population which could reflect mortality patterns of men associated with the First World War.

The overall female share reached 50% in the mid-1970s and since the late-1970s—for close to forty years now—women and girls have formed the slight majority. Among the primary reasons for this shift are patterns related to life expectancy and age-specific mortality. Females have had a higher life expectancy at birth than males throughout the past century but the differential is greater now than in 1921. During the 1920 to 1922 period, life expectancy at birth was 60.6 years for females and 58.8 years for malesNote 5, a difference of 1.8 years. Gains in life expectancy over much of the past century have been more advantageous for women than men. The differential peaked in the late 1970s at more than seven years, although it has since been reduced. For the 2009 to 2011 period, life expectancy was 83.6 years for females and 79.3 years for malesNote 6, a difference of 4.3 years, which may further converge in the future.Note 7

In addition, mortality associated with childbirth was higher in the early part of the 20th Century than it is currently. Consequently, in the past, there were higher mortality rates for women than for men during their twenties and thirties.Note 8 Maternal mortality rates in particular have been significantly reduced over the past century and mortality rates are now lower for females than males over most of the life course. According to the medium-growth scenario of the most recent population projections, the slight female majority for the total population would remain relatively stable for the next 50 years.Note 9

The proportion of the total population comprised of females can mask differences by age. Generally, the sex ratio at birth in Canada, which is the number of males per 100 females, averages about 105 males per 100 females. Under age 25, young women and girls were the minority of the population on July 1, 2014, at less than 49%. This reflects the fact that there are more boys at birth than girls, despite higher mortality for boys. Between the ages of 25 and 54, there was greater fluctuation with women representing around 50% of the Canadian population. Women formed the majority from their mid-fifties onward, and the differential widened with age.  Among individuals aged 55 to 59 in 2014, women comprised 50.1% of the population, increasing to 63% for 85- to 89-year-olds and 72% for those aged 90 and over (Table 2).

Internationally, recent data for all G8 countries also show higher proportions of women and girls in their populations. In countries such as Russia, Italy, Japan and France, the female share of the population surpassed 51%.Note 10 The female share of the population was marginally larger in Germany (50.9%) and the United States (50.7%) than in Canada (50.4%), while the proportion in the United Kingdom (50.3%) was similar. Overall, larger shares of women and girls are often found in countries having the greatest sex differentials in life expectancy favouring females. However, other social and demographic factors—such as the level of migration at certain ages—may also affect both the overall share of females in the population, as well as at particular ages. In some countries, females accounted for less than half of the total population, including in the two most populous countries of China (48.5%) and India (48.1%).Note 11

Age structure

Canada, like many industrialized countries, is characterized by an aging population. While this applies to both women and men, given the greater longevity of women, the impact of aging on women can differ from that of men regarding their needs and experiences in areas such as health care, housing and financial and social support. Indicators such as median age—the age at which 50% of the population is older and 50% is younger—and the proportion of the population aged 65 and over, can be used to measure the extent to which a population is aging. In 1921, the median age for females was 23.2 years, lower than the 24.7 years for males. By 1956, the median age of females (27.3 years) edged past that of males (27.2 years) and the gap has been widening since that time. As of July 1, 2014, the median age was 41.2 years for females and 39.5 years for males.

The population in Canada is aging due to increasing life expectancy, the movement of the large baby-boom cohort—born between 1946 and 1965—through the age and sex structure, as well as sustained below-replacement fertility.Note 12 Low fertility is the result of many factors, including improved contraception, delayed union formation, and increased education and labour force participation of women. With fewer births per woman, the population begins to shift to older ages. In Canada, the population of women who were in their mid to late sixties in 2014 is now growing rapidly with the arrival of the baby boomers in this age group. Growth for women aged 65 to 69 was exceeded only by that of the oldest groups of women aged 90 years and over. Over the last decade, population growth for older age groups of both women and men has been more rapid than for younger age groups (Chart 1). For some younger age groups, for example, women and men aged 35 to 49—largely comprised of the smaller cohort who followed the baby boomers—population growth has been negative. The last decade has also been characterized by little or no growth for the female and male population aged 5 to 19. There has been positive growth, however, for the population aged 0 to 4 during the 2004 to 2014 period, resulting from slightly higher fertility and an increase in the number of women in their prime childbearing years. Between ages 50 and 89, growth was slower for women than for men.

In the last 60 years, the age and sex structure of the Canadian population has changed considerably (Chart 2). In 1954, toward the middle of the baby boom, Canada’s population pyramid had a wide base because of the large number of births during this period. Six decades later, the bulge has moved up the pyramid as the baby boomers, approximately 49-to 68-years-old in 2014, have aged. Compared to 60 years ago, lower fertility is evident in the narrower base for the 2014 pyramid. As baby boomers grow older and Canada’s population continues to age, the population structure is expected to become increasingly rectangular, as is the case for the 2054 pyramid. Larger numbers of women in their senior years compared to men can be seen in each pyramid, particularly at the oldest ages.

As a result of population aging, the distribution of females has been shifting to older ages. The proportions of senior women have increased over time, while that of girls has decreased (Chart 3). Senior women aged 65 and over represented 4.8% of the female population in 1921, much lower than the 35% of girls aged 14 and under. By 1971, the shares had increased to 8.9% of the female population who were seniors and decreased to 29% for those who were girls aged 14 and under, and by 2011, the shares of senior women and girls were comparable (16% each). For the past several years, the proportion of senior women has just exceeded that of girls, and on July 1, 2014, 17% of the female population was comprised of women aged 65 and older and 16% were girls aged 14 and under. According to the medium-growth scenario of the most recent population projections, the proportion of senior women could reach close to one-quarter (24%) of the female population by 2031 and continue to rise in the subsequent decades, while that of girls is projected to fluctuate slightly but remain relatively stable.

In 2012, for the first time, there were more women aged 55 to 64, the age when they typically leave the labour force, than those aged 15 to 24, the age when they typically enter the labour force, and the gap has since widened. On July 1, 2014, there were 2.4 million women between the ages of 55 and 64 in Canada, compared to 2.2 million women between the ages of 15 and 24, indicating potentially more labour force exits than entrants. During the early to mid-1970s, for every woman aged 55 to 64, there were 2.3 women aged 15 to 24; this ratio has now fallen by half, to just below one, and could fall further to 0.8 in the coming years.Note 13 While the ratio of men aged 15 to 24 to those aged 55 to 64 has also fallen to one, there remain slightly more men in the younger age group. The ratio could also drop below one for men in the coming years but is not projected to be as low as that projected for women.

Regional differences

The large majority of both females and males reside in the four most populous provinces in Canada (Table 3). Nearly two-fifths of women and girls lived in Ontario on July 1, 2014 (39%), followed by Quebec (23%), British Columbia (13%) and Alberta (11%), with a similar distribution for men and boys.

The age and sex structure of the population differs across the provinces and territories, with variations attributed to fertility and immigration—both past and present—as well as differing levels of interprovincial migration (Chart 4).Note 14 While comprising a relatively small share of the overall Canadian population, the Atlantic provinces have proportionally more females than males compared to the territories and Alberta.

The distinctive broad peak of the population pyramid for the Atlantic provinces reflects a population that is older than elsewhere in Canada. In 2014, the share of the total population comprised of females was largest in Prince Edward Island (51.3%) and was also relatively larger in the other Atlantic provinces. These provinces have an older age and sex structure compared to Canada overall—and given the higher longevity of women compared to men—it follows that there are more women at older ages. Baby boomers comprise a larger share of the population in the Atlantic provinces compared to the other regions as there are proportionally fewer young women and men resulting from sustained low fertility and migratory losses to other regions of the country. Similar to the population pyramid at the national level, the oldest age groups show more women than men, but it is even more pronounced than in the other regions.

In contrast, among the provinces, Alberta had the lowest proportion of its population comprised of women and girls, 49.1% in 2014, perhaps reflecting the younger age and sex structure in this province at least partially due to the in-migration of young adults—particularly younger men—for employment opportunities. The other Prairie provinces, Saskatchewan (49.6%) and Manitoba (50.3%) also had shares of females in their provincial populations that were just below the national average. The Prairie provinces have a relatively large Aboriginal population, who have higher fertility levels,Note 15 as well as a younger population than the non-Aboriginal population. Higher fertility contributes to the larger share of young people in the Prairies, as seen by the wider base of the age and sex pyramid. Consequently, there were more women and men aged 15 to 39 in the Prairies than aged 40 to 64, a trend not found in the other provinces. The peak of the Prairies’ population pyramid is narrower compared to the other regions, indicating a smaller share of seniors, which can be at least partially attributed to relatively higher levels of fertility, but also to immigration and the attraction of migrants from elsewhere in Canada.

The broader base of the pyramid for the territories reflects the prevalence of a younger population, while the sharper peak indicates a smaller share of seniors than in the rest of Canada, which may partly explain the lower proportions of females in the Northwest Territories (49.1%), Yukon (48.8%) and Nunavut (48.2%). The younger population structure of the territories is largely the result of higher fertility levels as well as lower life expectancy.

The pyramid for the three most populous provinces of Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, shows an age and sex structure that is younger than that of the Atlantic provinces but older than in the Prairies. The proportion of females in the population was above the national average in Ontario (50.9%) while in Quebec and British Columbia (50.3% each) it was close to that of Canada overall. Despite the uniqueness of these three provinces, each is characterized by a relatively large share of immigrants, similar population aging and inclusion of one of the three largest census metropolitan areas (CMAs) in Canada.Note 16, Note 17

All provinces and territories, with the exception of Newfoundland and Labrador, could experience increases in the number of women and girls within their populations in the coming years, based on the medium-growth scenario of the most recent population projections. Between now and 2031, Alberta could have the largest growth in the number of women and girls (+35%), increasing from 2.0 million in 2014 to 2.7 million in 2031, while Newfoundland and Labrador could decrease from 267,200 women and girls in 2014 to 247,100 in 2031. Similar patterns could occur for men and boys in these provinces.

The majority of Canada’s population lives in metropolitan areas. As of July 1, 2014, 70% of females, as well as males, in Canada resided in CMAs. In 2014, the share of women and girls in some CMAs was larger—Peterborough, 51.9%, St. Catharines-Niagara, 51.3%, and Saint John and London, each at 51.2%—than in others (Table 4). Trois-Riviéres, Peterborough and St. Catharines-Niagara were the CMAs with the highest proportions of senior women in their female populations in 2014, the lowest proportions of working-age women aged 15 to 64, and smaller shares of girls aged  14 and under than the national average. In contrast, the smallest shares of females in the population in 2014 were found in the two Alberta CMAs: Calgary and Edmonton, 49.3% each, the CMAs with the lowest proportions of senior women, and proportions of girls and working-age women that were higher than for Canada overall. In fact, the female population in the Calgary CMA had the largest share of working-age women in the country in 2014.

In 2011, 18% of all women and girls in Canada and 20% of all men and boys lived in rural areas. Among the rural population, just under half, 49.1%, were females, however, the largest shares were found in the rural areas of the Atlantic provinces: Nova Scotia (50.4%), Prince Edward Island (50.3%), Newfoundland and Labrador (50.2%) and New Brunswick (49.9%).

Residential mobility

The distribution of the female population across Canada is affected by movement both between and within provinces and territories, including across and within municipalities. Although the majority of women and girls, as well as men and boys, did not move in the five years prior to 2011, a significant number did. Between 2006 to 2011, over six million females aged five years and older, or 39% of females, made at least one residential move, that is, they lived at a different address in 2011 than in 2006 (Table 5). A smaller share of the female population, 12% of females aged one year and older, moved in the one-year period before 2011. Patterns of residential mobility were similar for males.

Young adults are the most mobile. About one-quarter of movers were aged 25 to 34 (26% of females and 25% of males) in 2011. There could be many reasons accounting for moves by women and men in their late twenties and early thirties, including educational pursuits, employment opportunities or family reasons.

Most of the population moves within a relatively short distance. The majority (54%) of females aged five and older who made a residential move within the five years prior to 2011 moved within their same municipality. Close to 3 in 10 (29%) females who moved went to different municipalities but within the same province, 6.9% moved to different provinces, and 10% moved to Canada from a different country.

Females aged five and over from the territories and Alberta were most likely to have moved in the five years prior to 2011. Nearly half of those in the Northwest Territories (49%) had changed residences, followed by those in Yukon (46%), Alberta (45%) and Nunavut (44%). Females in Newfoundland and Labrador were least likely to have moved in the preceding five years (29%). Among female movers, however, those in Quebec (35%) and Newfoundland and Labrador and Ontario (30% each) were most likely to have been intraprovincial movers, that is, to have moved within their own province, while those in Yukon (31%) and the Northwest Territories (28%) were most likely to have been interprovincial movers, that is, to have moved to another province or territory.

Based on interprovincial migration data for 2012/2013 from the Population Estimates Program, patterns of migration were similar for females and males with about 127,200 females and 134,100 males moving to a different province or territory. Movement was commonly between neighbouring provinces or territories, for example, in 2012/2013, three-fifths of migrants (62% of females and 63% of males) to Quebec were from Ontario and about 3 in 10 female and male migrants to Ontario were from Quebec. Similarly, 43% of female and male interprovincial migrants to British Columbia in 2012/2013 were from Alberta and about 3 in 10 interprovincial migrants moved to Alberta from British Columbia. From across the country, Alberta received a total of 39,400 female migrants and 45,200 male migrants in 2012/2013, the highest of any province or territory. Of these migrants to Alberta, 14% of females and 16% males were from the Atlantic provinces.

Aboriginal identity

The diversity of the female population in Canada can be seen in many ways, one of which is the proportion of females who report an Aboriginal identity. According to the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), 718,500 women and girls, or 4.3% of the total female population, reported an Aboriginal identity—First Nations,Note 18 Métis or Inuit.Note 19 According to the most recent projections of the Aboriginal identity population, it is projected that there could be 1.1 million females with an Aboriginal identity in Canada in 2031.Note 20 In 2011, 61% of the Aboriginal female population identified as First Nations only, 32% as Métis only, 4.2% as Inuit only and an additional 2.8% reported other Aboriginal identities or more than one Aboriginal identity (Table 6). The male proportion reporting an Aboriginal identity and the distribution by Aboriginal identity groups were similar to females.

The female population who had an Aboriginal identity was younger and grew more rapidly than the non-Aboriginal female population. The median age of Aboriginal females was 29.1 years in 2011, with the youngest median age for Inuit (23.3 years), followed by First Nations (27.6 years) and Métis (32.1 years) females, all younger than the median age of 41.5 years for the remaining female population. Compared to Aboriginal females, the median age for Aboriginal males (26.1 years) in 2011 was younger overall as well as for each single identity group: Inuit (22.1 years), First Nations (24.0 years) and Métis (30.6 years). Girls accounted for a larger share of the Aboriginal female population, and seniors accounted for a smaller share, compared to the non-Aboriginal female population: 27% of Aboriginal females were aged 14 and younger in 2011 (as were 16% of non-Aboriginal females) while 6.3% were aged 65 and older (15% of non-Aboriginal females). Among Aboriginal males, 29% were aged 14 and under and 5.5% were aged 65 and over.

The Aboriginal female population grew by 20% between 2006 and 2011Note 21, more than four times the growth of the non-Aboriginal female population, at 4.8%. In those five years, among the Aboriginal female population who reported a single identity, growth was highest for First Nations (+23%), Inuit (+18%) and Métis (+17%) females, similar to the pattern for the Aboriginal male population. The more rapid growth for the Aboriginal female population compared to the non-Aboriginal female population is largely attributed to higher fertility and ethnic mobility, although other factors could also affect growth. Despite their higher fertility relative to the non-Aboriginal population, the Aboriginal population is aging primarily because of declining fertility and increasing life expectancy. According to all scenarios of the projections of the Aboriginal identity population, the aging of this population is expected to continue over the coming decades.Note 22

Aboriginal women and girls lived throughout the country, but they were proportionally higher in some areas than others. Across Canada, the three territories, Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon, had the largest shares of females with an Aboriginal identity in 2011. In Nunavut, 87% of women and girls reported an Aboriginal identity (primarily Inuit) in 2011, as did 54% of females in the Northwest Territories and 25% of females in Yukon. Among the provinces, the largest shares of Aboriginal females were found in Manitoba (17%) and Saskatchewan (16%). Overall, 22% of females with an Aboriginal identity in Canada lived on reserve while the majority, 78%, lived off reserve.

Immigrant status

The composition of Canada’s female population is becoming increasingly ethnoculturally diverse. According to the 2011 NHS, 3.5 million females were immigrants—some of whom have resided in Canada for many years, while others have landed recently—accounting for 21%Note 23 of the total female population, exceeding the share of the early 1900s, when the proportion surpassed 20% in 1921 and 1931. After dropping to 14% in 1951, the proportion has been increasing fairly steadily for about the past sixty years (Chart 5). According to the reference scenario of the most recent projections of the diversity of the Canadian population, the share of immigrant women and girls living in Canada could continue to increase, reaching 27% of the female population in 2031.Note 24

In 2011, 17% of immigrant females had arrived in Canada during the previous five years, and another 15% during the years 2001 to 2005. More than two-thirds (68%) of immigrant females had arrived prior to 2001, that is, the majority have lived in the country for at least a decade. Generation status can also be used as an indicator of duration of residence in the country, showing the extent to which a person and her or his parents were born in Canada or abroad. About one-quarter (23%) of females in Canada were first generation, that is, they were born outside of Canada, while 17% were second generation, that is, born in Canada but have at least one parent born outside Canada. The majority (60%), however, was third or higher generation, meaning that they were born in Canada with both parents also born in Canada.Note 25 The distribution of immigrant males by period of immigration as well as the characteristics of males by generation status were each similar to those of the corresponding groups of females.

More than 259,000 immigrants were admitted to Canada in 2013, of which 52% were females.Note 26 Among the immigrant female population arriving in Canada in 2013, the most common country of birth was China, accounting for 14% of immigrant females. The second and third most common countries of birth for immigrant females were the Philippines and India, each at 12%, followed by Pakistan and Iran (more than 4% each) and the United States (3%). For immigrant males who arrived in Canada in 2013, the top countries of birth were India and China (13% each) followed by the Philippines (10%), Pakistan (4.9%) and Iran (4.3%).

Most immigrant females entering Canada in 2013 were admitted in the economic class (54%), which includes entering as principal applicants or accompanying dependants of skilled workers, business immigrants, live-in caregivers, or provincial/territorial nominees. The second largest category was the family class (34%) comprising spouses, partners, children and other relatives of Canadian residents, such as parents or grandparents, who are sponsored by family members or close relatives in Canada. Thirdly, the humanitarian classNote 27 (12%) includes government-assisted or privately sponsored refugees as well as refugees landed in Canada and dependents abroad. Compared to immigrant females, immigrant males were more likely to enter in the economic class (61%), less likely to enter in the family class (27%), and equally likely to enter in the humanitarian class (12%).

The age distribution of immigrants who arrived in Canada was younger—particularly in the prime working ages of 25 to 44—than the Canadian population. Nearly half of both female and male immigrants arriving in Canada in 2013 (49%) were between 25 and 44 years of age compared to 27% of the overall population in Canada. About one-fifth of the immigrant population who arrived in 2013 (17% of females and 20% of males) was aged 14 and under, slightly higher than the total female population in Canada (16%). About 7% of female immigrants who arrived in 2013 were aged 65 and over compared to approximately 17% for the female population as a whole.

There were some differences by age and sex in terms of entry categories. The most common entry category for immigrant women aged 65 and over was the family class, for whom 93% entered in this category in 2013; for men in this age group, it was 94%. Most 25- to- 44 year-old immigrants entered in the economic class (64% of women and 67% of men) in 2013. Among 45- to- 64 year-old immigrants who arrived in Canada in 2013, women were more likely to enter in the family class (57%) compared to the economic class (31%). In contrast, a larger share of immigrant men aged 45 to 64 entered under the economic class (48%) than the family class (39%).

Visible minority status

The number and share of females who belong to a visible minority group has also increased over time and is expected to continue to increase. In 2011, there were 3.2 million women and girls in Canada who belonged to a visible minority groupNote 28, accounting for 19% of females (Table 7), up from 16% in 2006, with the same proportions for males in each year. According to the reference scenario of the most recent population projections on ethnocultural diversity, if the current level of immigration and composition of immigrants continues in the future, about 6.6 million females living in Canada, or 31% of the female population, could belong to a visible minority group by 2031.Note 29

Among females who reported a visible minority status in 2011, the three largest groups were South Asian (24%), Chinese (21%) and Black (15%). Some visible minority groups had equal proportions of females and males and in other groups females were either over-represented or under-represented: 57% of Filipinos and 56% of Japanese were females in 2011, while females represented less than half of West Asian (49%) and Arab (47%) populations. This could be related to age and immigration patterns. For example, many Japanese are older than other visible minority groups in Canada and as there are more women generally at older ages, this could at least partially account for the higher proportion of Japanese women. In addition, few immigrants are currently arriving from Japan.

In 2011, two-thirds (67%) of the female population reporting a visible minority status were immigrants, marginally higher than the share for males (63%). The proportion of immigrant females among some of the visible minority groups is higher than for others. According to the 2011 NHS, more than 7 in 10 females in the following groups were immigrants: West Asian (80%), Latin American (74%), Chinese (72%), Filipina and Korean (71% each). Lower proportions of Japanese (35%) and Black (55%) females were immigrants, groups with a long history of residence in Canada.

Marital status

Patterns related to the marital status of women—that is, whether they are part of a couple, either legally married or common law, or are not part of a couple and are never legally married, divorced, separated, or widowed, has implications for living arrangements, housing needs, as well as financial obligations and benefits. In 2011, 56% of women aged 15 and over were living as part of a couple: 45% were married and 11% were in common-law unions. The remaining 44% of women were not part of a couple: 25% were never legally married (single), 9.8% were divorced or separated and 8.9% were widowed.

Thirty years earlier, in 1981, 60% of women aged 15 and over were part of a couple: 56% were married and 3.7% were part of common-law unions. Of the remaining 40% of women who were not part of a couple, 25% were never legally married (single), 5.8% were divorced or separated and 10% were widowed. Despite the increased proportion of women living as common-law partners, this has not been sufficient to offset the overall smaller share in couples. The lower proportion of women living in a couple may be related to a number of factors, including a higher average age at marriage and an increase in the proportion of women who were divorced or separated and do not form a subsequent common-law union.

Living as part of a common-law union in 2011 was most pronounced for women in the province of Quebec (20%) and the territories, particularly Nunavut (25%) and the Northwest Territories (20%). Across Canada, for both women and men, the share of common-law partners was more predominant for younger adults in 2011, peaking for women in their late twenties (24%) and for men in their early thirties (22%).

Consistent with other demographic patterns in this chapter, the greater longevity of women affects many of their outcomes, although there has been some change in recent decades. Despite women’s higher life expectancy, increases in longevity have been more rapid for men than for women since the late 1970s owing to converging behavioural patterns such as smoking and work-related stress. Consequently, individuals, particularly women, can remain in couples until increasingly older ages, for example, among women aged 75 to 79, 45% were either married or living common-law in 2011, up from 30% in 1981. In comparison, the proportion of men in their late seventies in couples also increased, but more modestly, from 70% in 1981 to 76% in 2011.


Linguistic characteristics of both the female and male populations indicate that official languages—English or French—are predominant in this country whether measured as mother tongue,Note 30 knowledge of official languages, languages spoken most often at home, or language of work.Note 31 However, a significant proportion of the population spoke a non-official language in various contexts, either exclusively, or more commonly, in combination with an official language. Linguistic characteristics were similar for both females and males.

In 2011, among the female population with single responses of mother tongue—the language first learned and still understood—nearly four-fifths (79%) of females reported one of the official languages as their mother tongue, specifically, 58% reported English and 22% reported French. An additional 21% of the female population—3.4 million women and girls—had a single mother tongue that was neither English nor French. Chinese n.o.s,Note 32 German, Punjabi, Spanish and Italian were each the mother tongue of more than 200,000 females, each accounting for between 1.2% and 1.4% of all single response mother tongues in 2011. There were regional differences with French being more predominant in Quebec, for example, while 80% of females in Quebec had a mother tongue of French in 2011 (based on single responses), this was true of 3.9% of females elsewhere in Canada.

Knowledge of official languages refers to the ability to conduct a conversation in one or both official languages. Most of the female population in Canada in 2011, like males, spoke an official language, either English only (67%) or French only (13%). An additional 17% of females were bilingual—they could speak both English and French, and about 2.1% of the female population in 2011 spoke neither English nor French sufficiently well to converse. For males, 69% spoke only English, 12% spoke only French, 18% spoke English and French, and 1.5% spoke neither English nor French well enough to have a conversation.

Similar to the pattern for mother tongue and knowledge of official languages, females most often spoke only one language at home in 2011 (Table 8), predominantly English (64%), followed by French (21%) and non-official languages (11%). However, in 2011, about 597,700 women and girls reported that they spoke more than one language most often at home (3.5%). Of the females with multiple responses, the most common languages spoken at home were English and a non-official language (449,800 or 2.7%), French and a non-official language (56,700 or 0.3%) and both English and French as well as a non-official language (23,500 or 0.1%).

The official languages were used nearly exclusively in the workplace. Almost all women aged 15 years and older in Canada, 98%, used only one language at work in 2011, primarily English (76%) or French (20%), and a low proportion of languages used in the work environment was single response non-official languages, at 1.3%. The remaining 2.3% of women spoke multiple languages in the workplace, mostly English and French.


Most females and males in Canada identify with a particular religion. According to the 2011 NHS, 13.1 million females or 78% of the female population reported being affiliated with a religion, while 22% declared no religious affiliation (Table 9). For males, 74% reported having a religious affiliation and 26% did not.

The most common religion for both females and males in 2011 was Christian, at 70% and 65%, respectively. About 4 in 10 females (40%) and males (38%) identified themselves specifically as Catholic and about 3 in 10 people (30% of females and 27% of males) identified themselves as other Christian denominations such as United Church, Anglican, Baptist, Christian Orthodox, Pentecostal, Lutheran or Presbyterian. In total, more than 8% of females and males declared their religion to be one of the following: Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish or Buddhist.

Although the majority of women reported a religious affiliation, a smaller share participated in religious activities or was guided by religious beliefs. Attendance at religious services has been decreasing over time for both women and men. In 2012, 30% of women aged 15 and over attended a religious service at least once a month, down from 50% in 1988.Note 33  Historically, a higher proportion of women have attended religious services at least monthly than men, whose attendance fell from 42% in 1988 to 25% in 2012.

When asked if their religious or spiritual beliefs were important in the way they live their life, 37% of women responded in 2012 that it was “very important”. A lower proportion of men, 27%, indicated that these beliefs were “very important”. In contrast, in 2012, 15% of women and 25% of men indicated that such beliefs were “not at all important”. When asked about the frequency of engaging in religious or spiritual activities on their own (may include prayer, meditation and other forms of worship taking place at home or in any other location), in 2012, 33% of women and 20% of men said they did so “at least once a day”.


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