Census family

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


Census family is defined as a now-married couple, a common-law couple or a lone-parent with a child or youth who is under the age of 25 and who does not have his or her own spouse or child living in the household. Now-married couples and common-law couples may or may not have such children and youth living with them. Now-married couples and common-law couples are classified as husband-wife families and the partners in the couple are classified as spouses.

Intact family is defined as a husband-wife census family in which all children* are the natural and/or adopted children of both members of the couple.

Step-family is defined as a husband-wife census family in which at least one of the children* is in a step relationship with at least one of the parents.

Blended family is defined as a husband-wife family with two or more children*, of whom at least one of the following sibling situations applies:

- children are all step siblings, i.e., all children are brought to the current union (family) from other unions of both parents;

- children are a combination of step and half siblings, i.e., some children are born to the current union (family) and some are brought to that union from other unions by one or both parents.

Note: In this context children* refers to the relationship between children and their parents and includes both children and youth as defined on the basis of age.

Step siblings are siblings living in the same household but not having the same birth or adoptive parents.

Half siblings are siblings living in the same household but having only one common birth or adoptive parent. In this context adoptive children are treated the same as birth (natural) children.

There are two primary sources for social statistics: one is administrative records, which generally collect information from the files of individuals; the other is from censuses and surveys where the unit of observation is the household and individuals within the household. The latter source is capable of producing estimates for households (and usually the dwelling within which the household resides) as well as for individuals. In addition, it is possible to produce estimates for familial groupings within the household (i.e., the census family and the economic family). Some administrative sources, such as Revenue Canada files, are able to produce family estimates, but most cannot, nor can they produce household estimates.

In the context of census and survey work, there are four major conceptual entities. They are the dwelling, the household, the census family and the economic family. In general terms a dwelling is defined as a set of living quarters. Two types of dwelling are identified, collective dwellings and private dwellings . The former pertains to dwellings which are institutional, communal or commercial in nature. The latter pertains to a separate set of living quarters which has private access. A household is generally defined as being composed of a person or group of persons who co-reside in, or occupy, a dwelling. As in the case of dwellings, both collective and private households are identified.

In the case of the census, coverage of persons living in households is universal and basic demographic information is collected of all persons. However, some characteristics are not collected from persons living in institutional collective dwellings. Furthermore, no attempt is made to derive estimates of the family status of persons in any collective dwellings (except Hutterite colonies) because of the difficulty of determining relationships (see Relationship between household members). Estimates of families, therefore, are available only for families living in private households.

In the case of many household surveys, both institutional collective dwellings and Indian Reserves are excluded from the sample frame, so estimates of families are limited to private households and non-institutional collective dwellings.

On the other hand, information in income tax files permits the estimation of census families (but not economic families) regardless of household, dwelling or geographic location.

There are, therefore, some unavoidable methodological differences between the sources which will have some (usually minor) impact on family estimates from the various sources.

Additional information

Relationship between household members applies to persons within a household and kin, economic or social relationships between them. Persons are classified as related or unrelated. In this context, related is taken to mean a kin relationship such as husband, wife, common-law partner, grandfather, cousin, aunt or legally adopted child. In short a kin relationship is defined as being one of blood, marriage, common-law partnership or adoption. Unrelated is taken to mean any other relationship of an economic or social nature such as employee or lodger, room-mate or other unrelated person.

While at one time relationship was commonly tabulated as a variable for the purpose of analyzing household living arrangements, it is now used primarily for assigning persons within the household a census family or economic family status. For example, a household comprised of a husband and a wife, the husband's brother, his wife and their child; and a lodger would be assigned as follows: The husband and wife would be assigned the census family status of husband and wife and they would constitute a census family. The husband's brother and his wife and child would be assigned the census family status of husband, wife and child and they would constitute a second census family within the household. The two brothers and their families would constitute one economic family because of the kin relationship between them. The lodger would be assigned the census family status of unrelated person and the economic family status of unattached individual.

The distinction between related and unrelated persons may still be used in some household typologies where it is desired to reflect various types of living arrangements and dependencies.

Historically, one person in the household was identified as the head and other persons in the household were identified according to their relationship to the head. That is, other persons might be identified as the wife of the head or a son or daughter of the head. A male was always to be reported as the head unless there was no qualifying male present. Socio-economic studies often analyzed characteristics of the head such as educational attainment, labour force activity and income and in turn attributed such characteristics to the whole household.

In the 1980's a move to de-genderize statistical outputs saw the concept of head dropped including analysis of the characteristics of that person. The concept of Person one (or Reference person) was introduced and other persons in the household were identified according to their relationship to that person. There were still some age-based constraints on who might be reported as Person one but the gender constraints were eliminated. Other persons in the household were then identified according to their relationship to Person one. Some statistical activities continue to use the concept of head but it is not recommended.

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.

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