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Family Structure by Region (Revised)

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by Marcel Béchard

Data Limitations
Glossary of terms


This report presents a brief overview of the information collected in Cycle 20 of the General Social Survey (GSS).

The General Social Survey has two principal objectives: first to gather data on social trends in order to monitor changes in Canadian society over time, and second, to provide information on specific social issues of current or emerging interest.

The content of the 2006 GSS focused on family transitions. Surveys on families were also conducted in Cycle 5 in 1990, Cycle 10 in 1995 and Cycle 15 in 2001.

This survey monitors the changes in the structure of Canadian families. Topics covered include marital history, common-law unions, biological, adopted and stepchildren, fertility intentions, births and adoptions, child custody, financial agreements for child(ren) and ex-spouses/partners, work family balance and family functioning, work and education histories, as well as a wide range of basic characteristics including the domestic situation of the respondent at the time of the survey.

The target population included all people aged 15 and over, except full-time residents of institutions and residents of the Yukon, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. Data was collected from June to October 2006. Over this period, a total of 23,608 people were successfully interviewed, yielding a response rate of 68%.

For further information on methods and data quality, see the section at the end of this report.

Questions or comments pertaining to this report should be addressed to:
Dissemination and Client Services,
Aboriginal and Social Statistics Division,
Statistics Canada, 7th Floor, Section C1, Jean Talon Building,
170 Tunney's Pasture Driveway,
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0T6
Telephone: (613) 951-5979
FAX: (613) 951-4378


The target population for the GSS was all persons 15 years of age and over residing in Canada, excluding:

  1. Residents of the Yukon, Nunavut and Northwest Territories;
  2. Full-time residents of institutions.

In the survey, all respondents were contacted and interviewed by land-line (non-cellular) telephone. Households without land-line telephones were therefore excluded. However persons living in such households represented less than 2% of the target population. Survey estimates have been adjusted (i.e., weighted) to account for persons without telephones.

Data for Cycle 20 of the GSS were collected from June to October 2006. The sample was evenly distributed over the 5 months and was selected using the Elimination of Non-Working Banks technique of Random Digit Dialing (RDD).

The response rate for Cycle 20 was 68%. This was based on the 23,608 respondents.

Even though the survey collects data on individuals who are aged 15 or over, it also collects certain data on members of the selected household. Characteristics of the respondent household have been retained to derive family counts in this publication. To estimate family distribution and structure, we used a household weight, which is determined by dividing the weight of the selected individual by the total number of individuals in the household who are aged 15 and over.

Data Limitations

The figures which appear in this report are estimates based on data collected from a small fraction of the population (roughly one person in 1,125) and are subject to error. The error can be divided into two components: sampling error and non-sampling error.

Sampling error is the difference between an estimate derived from the sample and the one that would have been obtained from a census that used the same procedures to collect data from every person in the population. The size of the sampling error can be estimated from the survey results and an indication of the magnitude of this error is given for the estimates in this report. If the estimated sampling error is greater than 33% of the estimate, it is considered too unreliable to publish and the symbol 'F' is printed in table cells where this occurs. Although not considered too unreliable to publish, estimates with an estimated error between 16.6% and 33.3% of the related estimate should be "qualified" and used with caution. These are identified with an 'E'.

All other types of errors, such as coverage, response, processing, and non-response, are non-sampling errors. Many of these errors are difficult to identify and quantify.

Coverage errors arise when there are differences between the target population and the surveyed population. Households without telephones represent a part of the target population that was excluded from the surveyed population. To the extent that this excluded population differs from the rest of the target population, the estimates will be biased. Since these exclusions are small, one would expect the biases introduced to be small. However, since there are correlations between a number of questions asked on this survey and the groups excluded, the biases may be more significant than the small size of the groups would suggest.

To the extent that the non-responding households and persons differ from the rest of the sample, the estimates will be biased. Non-response could occur at several stages in this survey. There were two stages of information collection: at the household level and at the individual level. As such, some non-response occurred at the household level, some at the individual level. Non-response also occurs at the level of individual questions.

For most questions, the response rate was high, with non-response indicated in the data files. While refusal to answer specific questions was very low, accuracy of recall and ability to answer some questions completely can be expected to affect some of the results presented.

Glossary of terms


The term "family" refers to a now-married or common-law couple with or without children of either or both spouses/partners, or a lone parent of any marital status with at least one child living in the same dwelling.

Intact family

Refers to a family in which all children in the household are the biological and/or adopted offspring of both members of the couple.

Step family

Refers to a family in which at least one of the children in the household is from a previous relationship of one of the parents. In a simple step family, the child(ren) of one of the spouse or partner lives in the household. A blended step family contains children of both spouses/partners from one or more previous unions or one or more children from the current union and one or more children from previous unions.

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