How Many Canadian Fathers Live Apart From Their Children?

Friday Sep 3, 2010

September 2011

 A new study from Statistics Canada, which was in part inspired by the knowledge dissemination work of FIRA's Policy Reference Group, presents previously unavailable information about Canadian fathers.  Providing an accurate demographic snapshot of Canadian fathers using Census data has always been difficult since the Canadian Census does not ask respondents whether they have fathered (or in the case of women, borne) a child.  Therefore, the Census can only tell us how many men live in households with dependent children. The vast majority of these men would, of course, be biological fathers and some are likely stepfathers. However the Census does not collect any information that provides any insight into fathers who do not reside with their children.

 The new study, Making fathers "count", by Pascale Beaupré, Heather Dryburgh and Michael Wendt, is based on samples of men interviewed for the 1995 and 2006 General Social Surveys (GSS). These surveys did ask male respondents if they had fathered or adopted any children or step children and also asked men if they lived with their children at the time of the survey. This allows us to see for the first time, what percentage of fathers live apart from their children. The breakdown of fathers by residency status of their children is as follows:

• 81% live with all their children full-time

• 11.4% live with at least one child part-time

• 3.5% have at least one child who lives elsewhere

• 4.5% do not reside with any of their children

The number of men reporting not living with any of their children is actually less than it was in 1995, when 7.2% of men who had fathered or adopted children reported no children living in their household.

Since the study sample consisted of fathers with children 18 and under, it's reasonable to assume that very few of the men without children in their households would have been referring to offspring who had left home (i.e. no longer living with a parent). Thus, most were living apart from their children due to divorce, separation or never having resided with their children.

The study also shows that, in 2006, fathers who did not live with their children thad lower socio-economic status than fathers who live with their children.

• 60% of fathers with no children in their households had personal incomes lower than $50,000 per year compared to just under half of lone parent fathers and fathers in blended families and  38.5% of fathers in two-parent families. 

• 61% of fathers who live apart from their children live in a house owned by a member of their household, compared to 87% of fathers in two-parent familes,80% of fathers in stepfamilies and 66.5 % of lone-parent fathers.

Other highlights from the study include data on shifts in the marital status and family structure of fathers.

• 18% of fathers were living common-law in 2006, compared to 13% in 1995

• 40% of Quebec fathers lived common-law in 2006 compared to 26% in 1995.

• 11% of fathers in the rest of Canada lived common-law in 2006 compared to 9% in 1995

• 13.4% of fathers were living in step-families 2006, up from 11.5 in 1995

• 8% of fathers were lone parents (fathers with full-time resident children, but no live-in spouse or partner)

According to lead author, Pascale Beaupré, the idea for this study was spawned at a 2008 roundtable in Ottawa, hosted by Donna Lero and Lynda Ashbourne, who along with Denise Whitehead, compiled FIRA's Inventory of Policies and Policy Areas Influencing Father Involvement. One of the findings shared by Lero and Ashbourne at the roundtable was the need for more basic demographic information about Canadian fathers. Making Fathers count, is an excellent step towards helping researchers and professionals who work with families gain greater insight in the diverse experiences of Canadian fathers.

  Read Making Fathers Count.