It can cost a lot of money to get married. But it costs a lot more not to be married.

It can cost a lot of money to get married. But it costs a lot more not to be married.

March 31, 2014

An Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) study reveals a widening marriage gap between rich and poor Canadians.

The IMFC report entitled The Marriage Gap Between Rich and Poor Canadians reveals a greater decline among mid- and low-income earners than among high-income earners in its study of marriage rates over the past 35 years.

"Our analysis shows that marriage in Canada, to an astonishing degree, is linked to income," says the study. "The wealthiest Canadians are very likely to be married, while the lowest income earners are very likely to be unmarried."

"This is a concern since marriage itself is a powerful wealth creator," says the research and public policy think tank.

Since 1976, marriage rates have declined among all income groups, the study shows. In the highest income quartile, 95 per cent of families had a married or common law spouse in 1976, but that rate dropped to 86 per cent in 2011.

In the middle income quartiles, it declined from 68 per cent in 1976 to 49 per cent in 2011.

Among the poorest quartile, only 25 per cent of families were married or common law in 1976, but that level declined to only 12 per cent in 2011.

"Canadian policymakers should be concerned about the health of marriage because of its contribution to economic stability and human flourishing," IMFC said.

The IMFC noted little research has been done to see how the middle-class Canadian family is faring, despite the rhetoric from all political parties focusing on this demographic.

"Oftentimes, discussion of how to help families avoids substantive issues like family structure," the report said. "Yet, marriage is the most stable foundation for families. It is both a powerful wealth creator and protector against poverty."

The think tank recommended some public policy strategies to encourage marriage such as: "public awareness campaigns; positive portrayals of marriage in advertising; tax credits for married families; making marriage counseling more accessible; [and] business practices that help work-life balance."

"Non-partisan research by reputable scholars has shown that when young people graduate from high school, get a job and get married before having children, they are at substantially reduced risk – only a two per cent chance in the United States – of ever living in poverty," said the report's executive summary.

Married partners benefit from the combined social and family support networks that can help in the event of a layoff, a death or other adverse event. They can also pool resources and divide up the unpaid labour involved in family life, the report said.

Families headed by a married couple are able to build up more wealth than those headed by single or cohabitating couples.

The IMFC reported the share of lone-parent families doubled over the past 50 years to 16 per cent.


Formerly, lone-parent families were most likely headed by widows but by 1976 the majority was headed by a separated or divorced parent.

Canada has seen a large increase in the number of families headed by a never-married lone parent: from seven per cent of lone-parent families in 1976 to 31.5 per cent in 2011.

A bright spot is evidence of a slight upward bounce in marriage participation since 1999, the report showed. Decreases in marriage participation were greatest in the 1980s and 1990s, the report noted.

"Marriage as a share of family form has shown signs of a small recovery over the past 13 years among some age groups. This revival has been particularly evident among the lowest income quartile where the share of marriage is least represented."


"Healthy marriages are both a private and a public good," the IMFC report said. "The economic and social benefits of marriage are good for both individuals and for society as a whole."

"Governments, communities and even businesses have an interest in the benefits that intact families produce – as consumers and as the institution raising the next generation of citizens," it said.

The report urged businesses to support families by creating "flexible work environments" that promote "work-life balance."

The study pointed out that even though lower-income Canadians benefit economically from marriage, "financial uncertainty can deter entry into marital unions."

"Policy makers, community leaders and Canadians at large must notice the relationship between family structure and income," the study concluded.