Enduring Diversity: Living Arrangements of Children in Canada over 100 Years of the Census
The baby boom
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The years immediately following the Second World War were characterized by an economic boom and much technological and infrastructural development in Canada. Additionally, men and women began marrying at a greater rate and at a younger age, and women began having children at a younger age, on average, than previous cohorts. These changes contributed to the baby boom (1946 to 1965) which defines this period in the nation’s history.Note 25 These years also saw the widespread introduction of television into homes, transforming family leisure habits and popular culture. Television programs such as ‘Leave it to Beaver’ transmitted an idealized portrayal of a nuclear family which influenced societal norms about family life. The ‘male breadwinner’ model was the predominant family form, with a prevailing norm that mothers should engage primarily in the unpaid work of homemaking and childrearing.Note 26
As a result of these cultural shifts and further reductions in child and adult mortality, many children born during the middle of the 20th century in Canada experienced a relatively stableNote 27 family situation over the course of their childhood, a stability not seen in the eras immediately preceding and following. In 1961, 93.6% of the 7.8 million children in census families were living with married parents—the highest proportion observed over the past century.Note 28 Correspondingly, the proportion of children living with a lone parent reached a low of 6.4% in 1961, just over half the 11.9% share observed thirty years earlier in 1931.
Owing mainly to changes in the timing of childbearing among consecutive cohorts of women, fertility increased to its highest recorded level during this era, peaking at 3.94 children per woman in 1959.Note 29 The number of births during the baby-boom years was also the largest ever recorded. About 479,300 births were registered in 1959, almost double the 242,100 recorded thirty years earlier in 1929. Thus, the baby boom was a period when the absolute number and the relative prevalence of children aged 4 and under were both at elevated levels not seen before or since (Figure 2).
As a result, children accounted for a relatively large share of the total Canadian population during the baby-boom years compared to the immediately preceding decades (Figure 3). In 1961, individuals aged 24 and under comprised close to half (48.3%) of Canada’s population, and over one-third (34.0%) of the population was aged 14 and under.
The relatively strong influx of children into the Canadian population during the baby-boom period, paired with a strong economy, resulted in a shift in the infrastructure development towards the needs of this generation. This focus evolved as the baby-boom cohort aged, from the construction of primary schools in their childhood years to universities, suburbs and jobs in their young adult years.
- Milan, A. 2000. “One hundred years of families”, Canadian Social Trends, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 11-008.
- Beaujot, R. and A. Muhammad. 2006. “Transformed families and the basis for childbearing”, Canada’s Changing Families: Implications for Individuals and Society, editors K. McQuillan and Z. R. Ravanera, University of Toronto Press, pages 15 to 48.
- Greater stability of family life does not necessarily imply greater happiness or satisfaction for family members, as noted by Kevin McQuillan’s concluding chapter of Canada’s Changing Families: Implications for Individuals and Society (2006), editors K. McQuillan and Z.R. Ravanera, University of Toronto Press, pages 293 to 306.
- Wargon, S.T. 1979. Children in Canadian Families, Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-810, Tables 2 and 18.
- Based on data beginning in 1926. Source: Statistics Canada, Canadian Vital Statistics, Births Database, 1926 to 2011, Survey 3231 and Demography Division, Population Estimates Program.
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