Statistics Canada
Symbol of the Government of Canada

Site navigation menu

Navigating Family Transitions: Evidence from the General Social Survey

Warning View the most recent version.

Archived Content

Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please "contact us" to request a format other than those available.

by Pascale Beaupré and Elizabeth Cloutier


Over the past few decades, important social, economic and demographic changes have transformed the lives of Canadians: the decline and control of fertility, the legalization of divorce, an increase in common-law unions, and the entry of women in huge numbers into the labour market. Each in turn, these transformations have been studied in order to assess their magnitude and their consequences on the family environment.

Five years ago when the 2001 General Social Survey (GSS) collected data on Canadian families, its major findings showed that compared to previous years, divorce was on the rise, common law unions were more prevalent and marriage seemed to be losing ground. Despite these changes, the vast majority of Canadians continue to enter a common-law union or a marriage. The rise in divorce and separation, however, means that families look different now than they did in the past, with more stepfamilies and lone-parent families than before (Statistics Canada, 2002a).

In addition to the changing structure of families, several trends have recently come to light that may have important consequences for Canadian families. For example, the growing need for higher educational attainment and the increasing cost of post-secondary education pose challenges for young adults entering a union. First marriages are happening later, on average, and young families are waiting longer before having their first child (Statistics Canada, 2004a). In addition, more and more families are relying on two incomes for financial security, and are juggling the responsibilities of paid work, domestic work and childcare (Marshall, 2006).

Given these changes and trends, the 2006 GSS addressed the question of how young Canadian families are negotiating key transitions which have significant impacts on the early years of family life. The nature and timing of transitions such as the establishment and advancing of a career, moving out of the parental home, marriage or common-law union, accumulating assets such as a car or house, family formation and the dissolution of a common-law union or marriage, may be changing as the Canadian economic and social context changes. In addition, the survey explores the kinds of resources young families need and use as they move through these important family transitions.

This report focuses on two of these key transitions. First, it analyzes, analyzing first the experiences of respondents who have had or adopted a child in the five years prior to the survey, and it examines the experiences of those who have gone through a separation or divorce during that same period. For both transitions, the analysis provides a brief description of those who experienced the change, then explores the services and resources that were used to help families as they moved through these transitions.

2006 General Social Survey – Family Transitions (Cycle 20)

Data presented in this study are taken from the General Social Survey ( GSS ). From June to October 2006, 23,608 people aged 15 or older and living in a private household in one of Canada 's 10 provinces were interviewed. Respondents contacted by the GSS were interviewed by telephone and mainly chosen by a random digit dialing sampling method. The survey collected detailed data on various aspects of the family, namely the transitions experienced by respondents: leaving the parental home, marrying or entering into a common-law union, having children, moving or buying a home, and separating or getting divorced. The survey also addressed important topics about the family, such as assistance and care provided to relatives, as well as work-family balance. The response rate was 68%.


You need to use the free Adobe Reader to view PDF documents. To view (open) these files, simply click on the link. To download (save) them, right-click on the link. Note that if you are using Internet Explorer or AOL, PDF documents sometimes do not open properly. See Troubleshooting PDFs. PDF documents may not be accessible by some devices. For more information, visit the Adobe website or contact us for assistance.