Children and family dissolution in Canada

Charles Jones, University of Toronto
Shen Jing, University of Toronto

Western Europe and North America have seen the emergence of more fluid and idiosyncratic family forms that are associated with greater gender equality within families as well as higher levels of women’s participation in the paid labor force. Elevated levels of divorce mean that children are at higher risk of experiencing the separation of their parents, an event that may have become less traumatic for the child as it has become more common and as local systems of family law have been reformed. Similar observations can be made with respect to the dissolution of common-law unions and the experience of children born into such families. This paper reports research on recent birth cohorts of Canadian children born to co-resident couples and demonstrates a greater risk of parental separation in Quebec that is linked with its higher incidence of common-law unions but is also related to a greater social provision for lone parent families in that Province, most notably a highly subsidized system of day care for working parents. Analysis of national Canadian samples shows that lower risk of parental separation is correlated with Asian ancestral origin while higher risk goes with having fewer siblings, being born to young mothers or into a step-family and to being of Aboriginal or African Canadian origin. Event history analysis shows that children in low income households and children of couples who rent rather than own their homes as well as the children of parents with depressive symptoms and low levels of family functioning are more likely to experience subsequent separation of their parents. Many of the factors predictive of parental separation have also been established as correlates of children’s cognitive and behavioral outcomes so some care is necessary before parental separation is considered to be an independent cause of such outcomes.

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Presented in Session 49: Separation and divorce