June 20, 2022

Weekly EconMinute—Household size

In this week’s EconMinute, we’re talking about household size.

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This year, data from the 2021 Census is being released, giving us a detailed look into how the Canadian population is evolving and changing. Today, we examine trends in household size—the number of people per household in Canada.

Since the mid-19th century, the average household size in Canada has steadily decreased. From a high of 6.3 people per household in 1861, down to 4.3 in 1941, and to a new low of 2.4 in 2021.

Larger households were common in the 19th and early 20th centuries as families had many children, and intergenerational or extended family living was not unusual. Households of 5 or more people were the most common until 1976. After that, two-person households became the most common and included variations such as a couple living without children, a single parent and child, or two roommates.

There are a few factors contributing to the long-term shift to smaller households:

  • Canadian fertility rates have been declining—falling 18.6% since 1991—leading to households with fewer children.
  • Canadian divorce rates increased markedly following broadened divorce legislation enacted in 1968 and 1981—leading to single, larger households splitting into two, smaller households.
  • Healthier aging has meant more seniors chose to “age in place” rather than move to a nursing home or collective retirement community—leading to more 1-person or 2-person households.

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