Immigration, aging, housing costs fuel rise in multi-generational households

August 2, 2017

By Paola Loriggio, The Record |

About a year after Yi Jiang and her family moved to Ottawa from China, they found themselves sharing a two-bedroom apartment with her parents.

After living together in Shenzhen, it seemed only natural that once the entire family was in Canada, her parents would live with her, her husband and their young son, she said. The couple has since had another child, and last year all six moved to a house in the suburbs.

“It’s very important for me to live with them … they are the most important people in my life and I am the only child,” said Jiang, a producer for a Mandarin radio show.

Such arrangements are very common in China and many continue the practice after they immigrate, she added.

Such appears to be the case in Canada, where the latest tranche of Statistics Canada data from the 2016 census shows a significant spike in the growth rate of multi-generational households — a 37.5 per cent increase since 2001, surpassing the 21.7 per cent rate of growth in households overall.

Some 2.2 million people, 6.3 per cent of the population living in private households, were part of a multi-generational living arrangement — at least three generations under one roof — last year, the agency reported Wednesday.

Statistics Canada attributes the increase, in part, to “Canada’s changing ethnocultural composition,” as well as “housing needs and the high cost of living in some regions of the country.” The aging population has also played a role, experts say.

The trend is also prominent in Indigenous communities: in Nunavut, one in eight households was multi-generational, while in the Northwest Territories, the living arrangement makes up 4.3 per cent of all households.

The ratio was 3.9 per cent in Ontario and 3.6 per cent in B.C., two provinces that are home to the bulk of Canada’s immigrant population. Cities such as Abbotsford and Mission, B.C., Toronto and Vancouver recorded the highest percentages locally.

Such communal living arrangements may seem like a novel new trend, but in fact it’s a long-standing practice, said Nora Spinks, CEO of the Vanier Institute of the Family.

“Right now the proportion of multi-generational households is high, relative to recent history, but if you go back pre-war, most households were multi-generational; somebody always took in mom or dad,” Spinks said.

“It was only through that weird blip postwar 1950s, 1960s where every generation had their own household, and you moved out at 18 or 19, and you got your own apartment and you never returned home and everybody had their own toaster and everybody had their own everything.”

Some families end up living together by choice, some by necessity, she added.

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