BC Council for Families

Family Facts: BC Council Blog

Canadian Stepfamilies: Composition & Complexity

Sep 20

by Pilar Onatra
Program Coordinator

The reality in Canada today is that a fairly large proportion of married couples will end up becoming divorced. Additionally, a fairly large proportion of these divorced couples, with or without children, will end up re-establishing themselves in a step, or blended, family.

So, with all of this re-arrangement occurring, the question to ask is: what do we know about the composition of blended families in Canada?

Statistics Canada recently released a report on this very subject called: Portrait of Families and Living Arrangements in Canada. Stepfamilies were counted for the very first time in the 2011 census, and this report allows us some insight into the various stepfamily arrangements that currently exist in our country.

According to this report, stepfamilies are couple families where there is at least one child whose birth or adoption preceded the current relationship. Of the 3,684,675 couples with children, 87.4% were intact families -- that is, they were comprised of two parents and their biological or adopted children -- and 12.6% were stepfamilies. In total, 557,950 children aged 14 and under lived in stepfamilies in 2011.

In the study, stepfamilies were classified as either simple or complex. In a simple stepfamily, all children are the biological or adopted children of one, and only one, married spouse or common law partner. A complex stepfamily consists of any of the following:

  • Families in which there is a least one child of both parents and at least one child of only one parent
  • Families in which there is at least one child of each parent and no children of both parents
  • Families in which there is at least one child of both parents and at least one child of each parent

In 2011, 7.4% of couples with children were simple stepfamilies while 5.2% were complex stepfamilies.

Compared to intact families, a smaller proportion of stepfamilies were comprised of married couples. In 2011 49.9% of stepfamilies were married compared to 86.0% of intact families. Complex stepfamilies were more likely to be married couples (55.5%) than were simple stepfamilies (46.0%). While 12.5% of opposite-sex couples with children were stepfamilies, close to half (49.7%) of same-sex couples were children with stepfamilies.

Across Canada, as a proportion of couples with children, stepfamilies were highest in the province of Quebec (16.1%) and lowest in Ontario (11.0%). Among the census of metropolitan areas, the proportion of stepfamilies was highest for several in Quebec: Trois-Rivieres (18.7%), Saguenay (18.5%), and Sherbrooke (18.4%). The proportion was lowest in the two most populous census metropolitan areas of Toronto (7.8%) and Vancouver (8.4%).

Aside from providing us with specific and useful data for the very first time, the report reflects the complexity and variety within stepfamilies. Parents and children navigating through these important changes and transitions need support and resources. The BC Council for Families has recently developed a project, Kids the Heart of Co-Parenting, for which we created 2 useful tip sheets for stepfamilies. Additionally, we have put together a podcast interview with Dr. Susan Gamache, a registered psychologist and co-parenting specialist, with helpful information for parents and family service professionals. These resources are available for free! Finally, the booklet Building Your Stepfamily ... A Blueprint for Success is available on our bookstore. With the changing face of today's Canadian families, resources to help families make the transition from intact to blended are all the more needed!

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