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The Growing and Shifting Divorced Population in Canada


This paper examines three key changes in the divorced population in Canada. First, we document rapid growth in both the percentage and number of currently divorced (and un-partnered) adults in Canada. We focus on divorced adults without a new live-in partner on which to rely, because these adults do not enjoy the economic advantages associated with cost-sharing and economies of scale that are afforded by cohabitation or remarriage. All of our analysis regarding the currently divorced population is examining those who have experienced a divorce and are not currently living common law (cohabiting) or remarried. In 1971, 1.4% of the adult population was currently divorced, and this increased steadily to 6.7% in 2011 and then has plateaued through 2018. Because of population aging and population growth, the number of divorced adults has increased even more steeply. The number of currently divorced adults has increased tenfold between 1971 and 2018, with greater increases for women than for men during this time period. In 2018, there were 1.9 million divorced (and not currently cohabiting) adults in Canada. Second, we examine gender inequality in economic disadvantage experienced by divorced men and women. We show a declining gender gap in some measures of economic disadvantage but little decline in others. Last, we highlight how the divorced population has been changing relative to the legally married population. We see that the small improvements in the economic well-being of the divorced population were far surpassed by much greater improvements among the married population. Our findings highlight the increasing economic vulnerability of divorced adults in Canada, especially relative to the married population, and point out how divorced adults may have risk profiles that deserve more attention.


Ce document aborde trois changements clés que l’on observe dans la population divorcée au Canada. D’abord, nous constatons une forte croissance du pourcentage et du nombre d’adultes actuellement divorcés (vivant sans conjoint) au Canada. Nous nous intéressons aux adultes divorcés qui n’ont pas de nouveau conjoint de vie sur lequel compter, parce que ces adultes ne bénéficient pas des avantages économiques associés au partage des coûts et aux économies d’échelle que procure la cohabitation ou le remariage. L’ensemble de notre analyse concernant la population actuellement divorcée porte sur les personnes qui ont vécu un divorce et qui ne vivent actuellement ni en union libre (en cohabitation) ni remariés. En 1971, 1,4 % de la population adulte était actuellement divorcée, et cette proportion a connu une augmentation constante pour atteindre 6,7 % en 2011, et demeurer stable jusqu’en 2018. En raison du vieillissement de la population et de la croissance démographique, le nombre d’adultes divorcés a augmenté de façon encore plus marquée. Le nombre d’adultes actuellement divorcés s’est multiplié par 10 entre 1971 et 2018, l’augmentation étant plus forte chez les femmes que chez les hommes au cours de cette période. En 2018, le Canada comptait 1,9 million d’adultes divorcés (ne vivant pas en union libre). Deuxièmement, nous nous intéressons à l’inégalité entre les sexes qui règne à l’égard du désavantage économique que subissent les hommes et les femmes divorcés. Dans certaines mesures liées au désavantage économique, nous observons une réduction de l’écart entre les sexes, alors que pour d’autres mesures, la réduction est plus faible. Enfin, nous mettons en relief le type d’évolution qu’a connu la population divorcée par rapport à la population légalement mariée. Nous constatons que les légères améliorations acquises par la population divorcée en matière de bien-être économique ont été largement dépassées par les améliorations beaucoup plus importantes observées chez la population mariée. Nos conclusions soulignent la vulnérabilité économique croissante des adultes divorcés au Canada, plus particulièrement lorsqu’on les compare à la population mariée, et indiquent la possibilité que les adultes divorcés ont un profil de risque qui mérite une attention particulière.

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  1. In 2011, the long-form census was replaced with the National Household Survey. Participation was voluntary and the response rate was 67%.

  2. Our regression analysis focused on measures of individual, not household, income. However, we show descriptive statistics for household income because household members are likely to pool income for economies of scale, and Table 2 shows that about half of divorced men and the majority of divorced women live with others.

  3. Table 5, which focuses on adults ages 20 and above, shows that in 1991, 16–17% of divorced adults were 60+ and this increased to 44% in 2016.


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We acknowledge the Government of Canada–Canadian Institutes of Health Research (MYB-150262) and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (430-2017-00357, 435-2017-0618, and 890-2016-9000). We are grateful to Xiangnan Chai for his research assistance.

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Correspondence to Rachel Margolis.

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The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest. Informed consent was collected by Statistics Canada, who collected the data that we use as a secondary data source. No animals were involved in the research.



Table 5 Characteristics of men and women ages 20+ who are currently divorced and not cohabiting
Table 6 Regression results for gender gaps in economic well-being among the divorced (and not cohabiting) population, ages 20+
Table 7 Characteristics of the legally married vs. the currently divorced, ages 20+
Table 8 Regression results for divorced vs. legally married, ages 20+

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Margolis, R., Choi, Y. The Growing and Shifting Divorced Population in Canada. Can. Stud. Popul. 47, 43–72 (2020).

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  • Divorce
  • Gender inequality
  • Marital status
  • Canada
  • Economic well-being