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Changing Family Dynamics Pose Challenges

Families are getting smaller and more complex 
A recent report from the Vanier Institute of the Family emphasizes that changing family dynamics are posing more challenges to Canadians today.

The average household size in Canada is 2.5 persons (2006). The number of one-person households increased by 12% and the number of couples without children grew by 11% between 2001 and 2006.

Single-parent families are also growing and now represent 16% of all families. Women in lone-parent families are now considerably older and better educated than ever before.

Next to health considerations, finances and work-life balance have become top considerations when thinking about if and when to have children. Higher education among women has resulted in waiting longer to have kids – if at all. The highest fertility rate is among women 30 to 34 (exceeds women 25 to 29) and the fertility rate of women 35 to 39 will soon surpass women 20 to 24. 

Stressed out and no time
Smaller families means caregiving responsibilities for elderly seniors are carried out by fewer family members. This reality is further complicated by the fact that families often live at greater distances from each other than they did in the past.

Middle-age women are the most likely to be called upon to assist seniors. 

Men are participating more in childcare and eldercare – but women are still doing the majority of household work. However, families are re-balancing roles and responsibilities to cope with their varied needs and obligations.

Stress levels are highest among working mothers who are forced to cope with work-life conflict. Work hours have been rising and family time is shrinking. Today 85% of two-parent families have two or more earners. Single earner families have fallen significantly to only 14%. 

Home leaving and home returning
It’s not only young children that raise the stress levels of families. Young adults are leaving home at older ages – and then coming back. Parents are providing significant levels of support – both financial and emotional – to their adult children. 60% of young adults 20-24 years old live in their parental home and 25% of 25-29 year olds live at home (2006). Young men are most likely to stay home the longest. 65% of men 20-24 years old and 30% of men 25-29 years old live with their parents. These “boomerang” youth leave home and then return for education, financial or relationship reasons. 

Multi-generational households are rising
Over half a million seniors live with their grandchildren. 53% live in three-generation households and 32% live with a lone parent and their children. The three-generation households are rising highest in urban centres such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. High rates of immigration, particularly from Asia, where extended family living arrangements are common, are driving these changes. Many of these grandparents continue to provide assistance and support to their children well into very old age. 

Household debt is at a record high
Household debt is at a record high and savings are at record lows. Canadians say their top priority in 2011 is to tackle their debts – pay down credit cards, lines of credits and mortgages. The average family debt-to-income ratio is approaching 150% – the highest ratio ever recorded.

The emotional and financial pressures facing today’s families are clearly stressful. When an unexpected illness, death or loss of employment occurs, the ability to cope financially and emotionally can feel overwhelming for families – especially those without adequate insurance protection.

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