General Social Survey - Family (GSS)

Detailed information for 2017 (Cycle 31)




Every 5 years

Record number:


The two primary objectives of the General Social Survey (GSS) are: to gather data on social trends in order to monitor changes in the living conditions and well-being of Canadians over time; and to provide information on specific social policy issues of current or emerging interest. A specific topic is usually repeated every five years.

The Family cycle of the GSS monitors the changes in the structure of families with respect to marriages, common-law unions, children and fertility intentions.

Data release - Scheduled for autumn 2018.


The two primary objectives of the General Social Survey (GSS) are: to gather data on social trends in order to monitor changes in the living conditions and well being of Canadians over time; and to provide information on specific social policy issues of current or emerging interest.

This survey monitors changes in Canadian families. It collects information on: conjugal and parental history (chronology of marriages, common-law unions and children), family origins, children's home leaving, fertility intentions as well as work history and other socioeconomic characteristics.

The information collected will impact program and policy areas such as parental benefits, child care strategies, child custody and spousal support programs.

Statistical activity

This record is part of the General Social Survey (GSS) program. The GSS originated in 1985. Each survey contains a core topic, focus or exploratory questions and a standard set of socio-demographic questions used for classification. More recent cycles have also included some qualitative questions, which explore intentions and perceptions.


  • Aboriginal peoples
  • Education, training and learning
  • Ethnic diversity and immigration
  • Families, households and housing
  • Health

Data sources and methodology

Target population

The target population for the GSS on Family is the Canadian population aged 15 and over, living in the 10 provinces, and not residing in institutions.

In this survey, all respondents are contacted by telephone. Thus persons in households without telephones cannot be interviewed. However, persons living in such households represent less than 2% of the target population.

Instrument design

The questionnaire was designed based on research and extensive consultations with key partners and data users. Qualitative testing, conducted by Statistics Canada's Questionnaire Design Resource Center (QDRC), was carried out, with respondents in two cities, who were screened in based on representative criteria. Questions which worked well and others that needed clarification or redesign were highlighted. QDRC staff compiled a detailed report of the results along with their recommendations. All comments and feedback from qualitative testing were carefully considered and incorporated into the survey whenever possible.


This is a sample survey with a cross-sectional design.

The target population for the main survey is non-institutionalized persons 15 years of age or older, living in the 10 provinces. For the survey, a single eligible member of each sampled household is randomly selected by the application to complete the questionnaire, after the completion of the roster.

This survey uses a frame that combines landline and cellular telephone numbers from the Census and various administrative sources with Statistics Canada's dwelling frame. Records on the frame are groups of one or several telephone numbers associated with the same address (or single telephone number in the case a link between a telephone number and an address could not be established). This sampling frame is used to obtain a better coverage of households with a telephone number.

The sample is based on a stratified design employing probability sampling. The stratification is done at the province/census metropolitan area (CMA) level. Information is collected from one randomly selected household member aged 15 or older, and proxy responses are not permitted.

Data sources

Data collection for this reference period: 2017-02-01 to 2017-11-30

Responding to this survey is voluntary.

Data are collected directly from survey respondents.

The data will be collected using a Computer Assisted Telephone Interview (CATI) application. Contact will be made by telephone from the Halifax, Sherbrooke, Sturgeon Falls, Winnipeg and Edmonton Regional Offices. An introductory letter is sent in advance to respondents for which an address is available.

Tax derived files (CSDD environment).

By linking data, we are aiming to obtain better quality data for income (personal and household).

Questions relating to income show rather high non-response rates, the incomes reported by respondents are usually rough estimates. Linking will allow getting such information without having to ask questions.

The information collected during the 2017 GSS will be linked to the personal tax records (T1, T1FF or T4) of respondents, and tax records of all household members. Household information (address, postal code, and telephone number), respondent's information (social insurance number, surname, name, date of birth/age, sex) and information on other members of the household (surname, name, age, sex and relationship to respondent) will be key variables for the linkage. Respondents will be notified of the planned linkage before and during the survey. Any respondents who object to the linkage of their data will have their objections recorded, and no linkage to their tax data will take place.

View the Questionnaire(s) and reporting guide(s) .

Disclosure control

Statistics Canada is prohibited by law from releasing any information it collects which could identify any person, company, or organization, unless consent has been given by the respondent or as permitted by the Statistics Act. Various confidentiality rules are applied to all data that are released or published to prevent the publication or disclosure of any information deemed confidential. If necessary, data are suppressed to prevent direct or residual disclosure of identifiable data.


Date modified: