Iqaluit is Canada’s common-law capital

Statistics Canada’s 1996 census shows that common-law couples and single parent families now outnumber married couples in Iqaluit.


Nunatsiaq News

IQALUIT Iqaluit is the country’s capital of common-law unions, in a territory where wedding bells toll less frequently than in any other jurisdiction of Canada.

That’s the portrait that emerges from figures contained in Statistics Canada’s 1996 census, which includes detailed information about how many Canadians live in common-law unions.

With one of the country’s highest birthrates, the future capital of Nunavut faces a population explosion largely fueled by children born out of wedlock.

More than half of Iqaluit families are unmarried

Unmarried couples and single-parent households now make up 57 per cent of all families in Iqaluit more than twice the national average.

One in five families in Nunavut’s capital is led by a single parent, and fully 36 per cent of all couples are common-law relationships.

“Wow,” Roger Sevigny, the acting director of the Town of Iqaluit’s social services department, said. “If you would have asked me to guess, I would never have said anywhere close to that.”

StatsCan defines common-law partners as two persons of opposite sex who are not legally married, but who live together as husband and wife.

The 1996 census shows common-law and single-parent families together make up 26 per cent of all families in Canada, with married-couple families in the large majority.

In the Northwest Territories, however, legally married couples form a slim majority of families, at only 55 per cent.

Fewer people getting married

And in Iqaluit, the number of married couples has actually fallen since the last census, as common-law unions soared from 215 in 1991 to 365 in 1996.

But because the municipality makes no distinction between married and common-law couples when it comes to income-support, child support and welfare payments, Sevigny said the shift in family structures will not likely affect the town’s ability to deliver social services at least not in the short run.

More disquieting for Nunavut planners is the high proportion of young residents. StatsCan census figures show that 1,300 children under the age of 15 reside in Iqaluit that’s 30 per cent of the total population.

This large number of young residents puts pressure on every aspect of community life, from employment to education to recreation to health. Not the least among planners’ worries will be finding space for them to live.

“We’ve got a housing shortage as it stands now,” Sevingy said. “Can you imagine what it’s going to be like when those kids reach the age where they’re starting off as couples and having kids of their own?”

Population boom feeding unemployment

Population pressures will further aggravate already dismal employment prospects, Sevigny added.

“Unless we get some sort of economic base here soon that allows us to provide work outside of the government, what are all these people going to do?”

The growth of common-law relationships in the Northwest Territories was rivalled only by the Province of New Brunswick. StatsCan figures show 27 per cent of all families in the territory are now common-law unions, compared with a nationwide average of 12 per cent.

Northerners also lead the country in single-parenting, with one in six households revolving around a single parent. Single moms accounted for nearly 80 per cent of the Northwest Territories’ 2,560 single-parent families in 1996.

While more couples opt not to tie the knot, Sevigny speculated there may be a link between the growth of common-law couples and single-parent families.

“Some of these relationships are not as stable as one might think, so we have a lot of individuals ending up in single-parent family situations, simply because there isn’t anything legal to bind them,” Sevigny said.

“The average age of first-pregnancies is probably lower than the rest of Canada, and I think a lot of our single parents come from that as well.”

In Iqaluit, census figures reveal a slight drop in the overall number of single-parent households, down from 215 in 1991 to 200 in 1996. The proportion of these families headed by single mothers remains relatively unchanged, at 72 per cent.

By comparison, the number of single-parent families in Yellowknife jumped to 605 from 455 over the same period of time.

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