Census family

Status: This standard was approved as a departmental standard on May 26, 2021.


Census family is defined as a married couple and the children, if any, of either and/or both spouses; a couple living common law and the children, if any, of either and/or both partners; or a parent of any marital status in a one-parent family with at least one child living in the same dwelling and that child or those children. All members of a particular census family live in the same dwelling. Children may be biological or adopted children regardless of their age or marital status as long as they live in the dwelling and do not have their own married spouse, common-law partner or child living in the dwelling. Grandchildren living with their grandparent(s) but with no parents present also constitute a census family.

Conformity to relevant internationally recognized standards

This standard is compatible with the definition of family nucleus presented in the United Nations' Principles and Recommendations for Population and Housing Censuses, Revision 1, 1998. This document provides the following definition:

"A family nucleus is one of the following types (each of which must consist of persons living in the same household):
(a) a married couple without children,
(b) a married couple with one or more unmarried children,
(c) a father with one or more unmarried children or
(d) a mother with one or more unmarried children.
Couples living in consensual unions should be regarded as married couples."

Furthermore, it defines child, for census purposes, as "any unmarried individual, regardless of age, who lives with his or her parent(s) and has no children in the same household." (The subsequent discussion clarifies that unmarried includes never married and divorced.)

In its discussion of statistical units, the Final Report and Recommendations of the Canberra Group, Expert Group on Household Income Statistics comments on international usage of two concepts of family which it refers to as the nuclear family and a broadly defined family often referred to as the economic family. The report observes that "nuclear families are defined as parent(s) and unmarried children sharing a dwelling. Sometimes an age limit for children (e.g. 18 years) is added to the definition." This standard fits within this definition.

Relation to previous version

  • Census family May 26, 2021 to current

    The definition of the statistical unit has been modified.

  • Census family November 16, 2015 to May 25, 2021

    The previous standard made no reference to children being children by common-law unions. In this standard, common law unions have been added to the ways in which children can be associated to the census family. In addition, a child having a married spouse or a common-law partner living in the dwelling have been added to the ways in which children are excluded from this statistical unit.

  • Census family February 20, 2006 to November 15, 2015

    In the previous standard, children were defined as "under the age of 25". In this standard, the age limit has been removed. However, only the Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics ever used an age-limited definition of "child" in identifying families.

    The previous standard made no reference to same-sex couples. The addition of the words "a couple may be of opposite or same sex" reflects the established practice of including same-sex common-law couples and recognizes that same-sex couples can also be married.

    This standard includes families made up of grandchildren living with their grandparent(s) with no parents present. Such families were not included in the previous standard.

  • Census family July 15, 1998 to February 19, 2006

    This was the departmental standard from July 15, 1998 to February 19, 2006.

Date modified: