The Work of the Vanier Institute of the Family

The Future Families Project: A Survey of Canadian Hopes and Dreams

The future of our children and our nation will be shaped to a great extent by recent trends in how families are formed and how they function. Equally though, they will be shaped by how Canadians respond to those trends. Their response will depend on their values¾what average Canadians want in the way of family life, and how important a role they’d ideally like family life to play in their lives. Identifying the values that Canadians hold dear will not only help us to better understand the present, it will also better prepare us for the future.

In Canada we have a lot of facts and figures about what families are doing today. What we don’t have is enough information about how Canadians feel about family life, and what they want for the future. That’s why the Future Families Project is so important. This major, national survey will give us a clear understanding of Canadians’ family aspirations, and answers to questions such as what motivates most Canadians to become parents, why some choose to be “child-free,” and how highly they value family life compared, for example, to a rewarding career.

The combination of longitudinal and cross-sectional data will provide a unique opportunity to capture:

  1. how the values of individuals change as they age and mature; and
  2. how the values of different groups of cohorts differ because they have been shaped by distinctive eras and events.

In 2002, VIF collaborated with Dr. Reginald Bibby of the University of Lethbridge to design the Future Families questionnaire. In February and March of 2003, English and French copies of the questionnaire were mailed to 6,000 adults across Canada and, by September, some 2,000 people had completed and returned the questionnaire-a statistically reliable sample. The first Future Families’ report will be published in the fall of 2004. VIF will disseminate the results through print and Web publishing so that all Canadians have access to the findings from this groundbreaking survey.

Profiling Canada’s Families III

Throughout 2003, the staff of VIF continued to work on an all-new third edition of our popular book Profiling Canada’s Families. Like the first two editions, Profiling Canada’s Families IIIwill be an essential resource for anyone who wants answers to questions about Canada’s families today.

Profiling Canada’s Families III will not only present an abundance of the most current national, provincial, and territorial information available from Statistics Canada, it will also make sense of the facts with accessible text and user-friendly graphs and tables. The book offers readers a deeper understanding of Canadians-the way they are now, the profound changes in their families over the past century, and the forces influencing their daily lives.

Profiling Canada’s Families III will be published in the fall of 2004.

Contemporary Family Trends

VIF publishes occasional papers written by Canadian experts at the forefront of family studies. Our Contemporary Family Trends papers contribute to the discussion of important family issues by making current knowledge on families available to researchers and policy-makers, educators and students, businesses and social service agencies, media and other interested parties. The papers are published both in print and on our Web site.

Published in 2003:

Same-Sex Couples and Same-Sex-Parent Families :
Relationships, Parenting, and Issues of Marriage

by Anne-Marie Ambert, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, York University


In the population at large, there are three main concerns regarding the children of same-sex parents. These are the fears that the offspring will grow up to be psychologically maladjusted because of social stigma, that they will be molested by their parents or parents’ partners, and that they will become homosexual themselves. None of these concerns has been supported by the research so far, except perhaps the last one, but only to a very small extent.

We do not know whether, after a divorce, children of a lesbigay parent have fewer or more problems than children who have heterosexual parents. For these children, it may well be the divorce of their parents rather than the one parent’s homosexuality which is the more important factor affecting their development-especially so since they have, after all, lived with at least one heterosexual parent until the divorce. Unfortunately, studies have failed to separate the effects of the two variables: divorce and parents’ sexual identity.

Although many gays and particularly lesbians are becoming more pro-family and pro-marriage-values that average citizens cherish-this cultural conversion has been largely rejected by the rest of society. Lesbigay families are often stigmatized as abnormal and immoral and parents are denied the right to marry, ironically at a time when concerns are raised about the decline of marriage itself as a binding force and fundamental institution. One could argue that allowing marriage for lesbigays who intend to enter into a stable, committed, and sexually exclusive marriage would reinforce the value of the institution of marriage itself.

Two other Contemporary Family Trends papers were written for VIF in 2003. After editing and translation, VIF will publish these papers in 2004:

Delayed Life Transitions: Trends and Implications
by Professor Roderic Beaujot, Population Studies Centre, University of Western Ontario


The transition to parenthood involves much change in people’s lives, and it is highly significant because of the associated permanence and obligation. One can have ex-spouses and ex-jobs but not ex-children.

Younger men are doing poorly in the labour market compared to men of previous generations. For younger women, it is their education that has particularly advanced, and they are doing well in the labour market compared to women of earlier generations. But men and women are not independent of each other, neither in the labour market nor in families. In the labour market, young men have had the disadvantage not only of following the baby boom cohort who took the best jobs, but also of competing with well-educated women. At the level of couples, most now adopt the two-worker model, and thus women’s gains compensate for men’s losses. Given women’s greater contributions to earnings, it may even be that men do not need to devote themselves as fully to maximizing their own earnings, and they can do a greater share of the caring side of maintaining a family.

The Changing Culture of Parenting
by Professor Kerry Daly, Department of Family Relations and Applied Nutrition, University of Guelph

An excerpt:

A major focus of attention now is to examine the interface of work and family life by examining effects of spillover from work to family or from family to work. What we are beginning to understand from this research is that high levels of stress at work can leave parents feeling distant, inattentive, and emotionally unavailable to their children; similarly, high levels of conflict and stress at home can have a detrimental impact on work performance. By contrast, there is also mounting evidence that indicates that for both women and men, satisfying work can have beneficial effects for the parent-child relationship and for children’s developmental outcomes.

The prevalence of paid work in family life means that in order to understand parenting, we must now seek to understand what it means to parent and manage paid work roles. One of the primary implications of this is that the division of labour in parenting has become a more complex process with more role ambiguity, more emphasis on negotiation of roles, and more fluidity in the way parents respond to the demands of everyday life. Most important, however, are indications of a pattern of convergence whereby women and men increasingly come to see themselves not only as co-parents but also as co-providers for their children.

Canadian Family Finances Program

VIF’s Canadian Family Finances program produces an annual report on family finances and publishes it on our Web site. We commission Roger Sauvé, President of People Patterns Consulting, to research and write the reports, which are of interest especially to politicians, journalists, business leaders, teachers, family professionals, and counsellors. By monitoring family finances every year, we keep Canadians informed of the latest patterns and trends in family incomes, expenditures, savings and debt. The report clearly meets a need, as proven by the tremendous media interest it generates each year.

In early 2003 we published:

The Current State of Canadian Family Finances: 2002 Report
by Roger Sauvé, President of People Patterns Consulting

Our fourth annual report on family and household finances offered both good news and bad.


Households More Cautious with Debt

Households are borrowing more, but the annual growth in household debt has been slowing over the last three years. The typical household had accumulated $57,400 of debt by 2001, and it seems that they added another $1,000 or so to this total in 2002.

Net Worth Declines for First Time Since 1991

The continuous 10-year climb in the average net worth of Canadian households ended in 2001, as net worth slipped by $625 or 0.2% from the previous year. A further drop is likely in 2002.

Financial Situation of Female Lone Parents Improves

Several indicators suggest that female lone parents are experiencing improved financial conditions. Their poverty rate fell from 49% in 1996 to 34% in 2000. It seems that the gains have mostly come from greater participation in the paid job market.

Eliminating Child Poverty Now an Annual $2.8 Billion Challenge

In 1989, the Government of Canada committed itself to the elimination of child poverty by the year 2000. Some progress is underway thanks to improved employment market conditions and changes to social programs. A lot more work needs to be done; some 868,000 Canadian children continue to live in poverty. About 488,000 of these poor children live in non-senior two-parent families, 337,000 in non-senior lone-parent families, and 42,000 in senior families.

The annual aggregate low-income poverty shortfall for all non-senior families with children is now about $2.8 billion. This compares to $3.4 billion in 1991 and $4 billion in both 1995 and 1996.

During 2003, Roger Sauvé researched and wrote The Current State of Canadian Family Finances: 2003 Report for publication early in 2004.

VIF’s Web Site:

The Vanier Institute of the Family launched its redesigned Web site in June 2003, after an extensive overhaul that involved working with a Web consultant and thoroughly testing the much-improved site. The new design includes a search tool that makes finding relevant information on the site easier and faster. Another new feature is the “News Room,” where visitors can read VIF press releases or media coverage quoting VIF staff.

Visitors to VIF’s bilingual Web site made 544,542 page requests in 2003-up by almost 10% compared to 2002. The average number of page requests per month was 45,379.

Sample material posted to the VIF Web site in 2003:


  • Same-Sex Couples and Same-Sex-Parent Families: Relationships, Parenting, and Issues of Marriage
  • The Current State of Canadian Family Finances: 2002 Report

Transition Magazine

  • Money and the Canadian Family (Vol. 32-4)
  • Canadian Boys: Growing up Male (Vol. 33-1)
  • Families and the Life of the Spirit (Vol. 33-2)
  • Lessons Learned from Canada’s Surveys of Children & Youth (Vol. 33-3)


  • VIF Report (Summer 2003), a newsletter for the valued supporters of VIF


  • A submission of the Vanier Institute of the Family to the House of Commons Committee on Justice and Human Rights in response to “Marriage and Legal Recognition of Same-Sex Unions: A Discussion Paper.”


  • VIF’s Core Values
  • Family Resources
  • Additional links have been added to these sections:
    • “Work and Family”
    • “Wealth”
    • “Family Facts”
    • “Did You Know?”

A Comment from Our Web Site Guestbook

You are doing fabulous work.
I wish more of our ECE students would use your resources.

-Sue Martin, Toronto, Ontario

Transition Magazine

Transition, a bilingual magazine, is VIF’s flagship for public education on Canada’s families. Each issue of the magazine features engaging articles on a particular theme of relevance to families, as well as news about Canadian groups working on behalf of families.

Published quarterly by the Vanier Institute of the Family since 1970, Transition is widely read and well-respected by policy-makers, researchers, educators, students, journalists, family-service workers, doctors, lawyers, parents, and many others interested in family issues.

The print run for Transition is 5,000 copies, but the actual readership is much higher: 10,500 is a conservative estimate. Readers often pass the magazine on to friends, family members, and co-workers. In high schools and universities, many educators use Transition as a classroom resource. Other organizations photocopy and distribute our articles, or reprint them in their own publications. For example, in 2003, the publishing company Nelson Thomson Learning requested permission to reprint text and photos from three Transition articles in a textbook to be titled Parenting in Canada.

Although we have no way of measuring the full impact of Transition, our 33 years of publishing the magazine have taught us that it has a considerable “ripple effect” in Canadian society. This influence can be accounted for by its quality, by VIF’s reputation as a balanced, reliable source, and by the fact that Transition is read by people who are in a position to influence others-teachers, journalists, parents, government officials, politicians, corporate leaders, and others.

Three months after publication of the print version of Transition, the magazine appears on the VIF Web site, where it is read by even more people.

In 2003, VIF commissioned the Summit Group, an outside publisher, to take a look at Transition and provide feedback on its current reach, its market impact, and the potential for new financing models to support the magazine’s costs. The Summit Group analyzed the current circulation data and also did a series of telephone interviews both with current subscribers and with organizations that do not receive Transition despite being in the broad “family community”-schools, universities, libraries, government offices, and other organizations that support the family through direct service or research activities.

The Summit Group concluded in its report that “Editorially, Transition is a tremendous product, quite unique in the market both in terms of how it views the family and in the material it covers. However, not enough copies get out to the public.” The report included recommendations for the future of the magazine-recommendations that will be considered in the coming year.

“What a superb Spring 2003 issue of Transition. You’ve contributed to enabling us to think about problems involving boys without our feeling that we’re neglecting girls.
—-Dr. Myer Horowitz, O.C.
University of Victoria: Adjunct Professor of Education and Chair of the Advisory Board for the Centre for Youth and Society; University of Alberta: Professor Emeritus of Education and President Emeritus

2003 Transition Themes

Canadian Boys: Growing Up Male

Families and the Life of the Spirit

Lessons Learned from Canada’s Surveys of Children & Youth

Canada’s Stepfamilies

2003 Transition Editorial Contributors

VIF’s in-house expertise was greatly supplemented by these outside experts who donated their research and writing for use in Transition:

  • David J. Baxter, Registered Psychologist in private practice; Associate, Adlerian Counselling & Consulting Group; part-time Professor, School of Psychology, University of Ottawa
  • Reginald W. Bibby, Board of Governors Research Chair in Sociology, University of Lethbridge; author of nine books, including Canada’s Teens and Restless Gods: The Renaissance of Religion in Canada
  • Sarah Henry Gallant, Project Coordinator, Understanding the Early Years, Prince Edward Island
  • Clyde Hertzman, Director of the Human Early Learning Partnership; Professor, Department of Health Care & Epidemiology, University of British Columbia
  • Heather Juby, Research Associate, INRS-Urbanisation, Culture et Société
  • Patricia Kelley, Professor, School of Social Work, University of Iowa; Board Diplomate in Clinical Social Work
  • Dafna Kohen, Assistant Professor, Department of Health Care & Epidemiology, University of British Columbia; Research Scientist, Health Analysis and Measurement Group, Statistics Canada
  • Fred Mathews, Community Psychologist and Director of Research and Program Development, Central Toronto Youth Services
  • Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, The Soul’s Religion, and many other books
  • Linda Nosbush, Project Coordinator, Understanding the Early Years, Prince Albert
  • Melady Preece, Registered Clinical Psychologist; Lecturer, Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia
  • Donald S. Swenson, Professor of Sociology, Mount Royal College; author of Society, Spirituality, and the Sacred: A Social Scientific Introduction
  • J. Douglas Willms, Director, the Canadian Research Institute for Social Policy, University of New Brunswick.

Public Education

Media Relations

VIF’s very effective media relations program is an indispensable tool for alerting the Canadian public to the realities of modern family life. Each year, as journalists quote our spokespeople on a wide range of family issues, potentially harmful myths about families are replaced by facts and informed opinions.

VIF responded to over 100 media requests for interviews, commentary, and background information in 2003. Many of these requests were prompted by VIF media mailings¾for example, our news release on our annual family finances report. Other media inquiries arose in response to news stories on family issues. As usual, VIF staff gave interviews in English and French to a wide variety of television, radio, and print media.

An excerpt from “Stay Together for the Kids, Judge Tells Troubled Parents” by Jill Mahoney, Globe and Mail, January 9, 2003:

Although each case is different, research on the impacts of divorce or separation on children indicates that most suffer short-term difficulties but do not experience long-term consequences, said Robert Glossop, executive director of programs and research for the Vanier Institute of the Family.

However, he said, Canadians, for whom four in 10 of today’s marriages will end in divorce, should not be sanguine about the effects on children.

“We need to take it a little bit more seriously and do our best to strengthen marriage, and when we don’t succeed there, do our very best to minimize the consequences of separation or divorce on kids.

“At the same time, I’m not sure it’s even fair to expect unhappy adults to stay wed to one another simply for the sake of the children. I’m not even sure it’s the right way to pose the question because I don’t think it’s going to happen.”

An excerpt from “More EI, More Bundles of Joy” by Shawna Richer, Globe and Mail, August 12, 2003:

It might be premature to call it a population boom, but for the first time in a decade, women in Canada are having more babies.

The figures, released yesterday by Statistics Canada, show that 333,744 babies were born in 2001-up 1.8 per cent from 327,882 the previous year, which set a record low . . .

After the number of births peaked at 405,486 in 1990, the birthrate in Canada began a steady decline before bottoming out in 2000 . . .

“People panicked because our public policy is con structed on having a society to support it, and our culture and economy are built on growth,” said Alan Mirabelli, spokesman for the Ottawa-based Vanier Institute of the Family. “If we’re not producing more citizens who will ultimately consume, that is a problem.”

[In 2001] The greatest surge occurred in Ontario with 131,700 babies, a 3.4-per-cent increase from 2000 . . .

The fertility rate of teenagers set a record low . . . But rates rose for women 25 and older, to 97.9 births for every 1,000 women. Mr. Mirabelli acknowledged that the increase was notable but difficult to understand.

“What we probably have here is pent-up demand,” he said. “Five or six years ago the economy wasn’t doing so well, and historically when that happens people choose not to have kids. In the provinces that saw the increase, all but Saskatchewan have seen a few pretty good years. It is likely a whole variety of causes, and we won’t know much until the next set of numbers.”

Selected Interviews Given in 2003

Media Organization Topic
Globe and Mail
  1. Divorce and consequences on children.
  2. Increase in fertility rate.
  3. Marriage and common-law relationships:
    Are attitudes changing?
  4. Family issues: lasting marriages, seniors living common-law, etc.
National Post
  1. Consequences of divorce on children and idea of mandatory counselling.
  2. Judges broaden parental obligation.
  3. Are parents over-scheduling their children’s time?
  4. The meaning of Mother’s Day.
Toronto Star
  1. Release of VIF publication Current State of Canadian Family Finances.
  2. Debt levels rising, but average Canadian family can stay above water if interest rates stay low.
  3. Interpretation of StatsCan data on men’s and women’s use of parental leave benefits.
  4. Sheila Copps’ social policy platform.
  5. Background on families and children living in condominiums.
  6. Commentary on StatsCan release of Census income figures.
  7. Commentary on StatsCan data on marriage rates and ages.
Ottawa Citizen
  1. Commentary on study re work and family stress.
  2. Childhood obesity and family patterns of time use and nutrition.
  3. Patterns of stability within same-sex relationships.
Montreal Gazette
  1. Response to the PQ promise of a four-day workweek for parents of children under age four.
  2. Grandparents: commentary on StatsCan release.
  3. Proposed changes to $5 daycare in Quebec.
Le Soleil Work-family balance.
TQS-Le Grand Journal More young adults living with their parents.
Edmonton Sun Release of VIF publication Current State of Canadian Family Finances.
Edmonton Journal Stepfamilies and blended families at Christmas time: How do they manage?
Calgary Herald
  1. Background information for 2003 budget analysis.
  2. Same-sex marriage.
Hamilton Spectator
  1. “The Incredible Shrinking Family,” a seven-part series.
  2. Series on history of the family, 1961-2001.
  3. Divorce linked to low income.
  4. Divorce: Just how many of us are headed for splitsville?
Winnipeg Free Press Grandparents raising grandchildren-commentary on StatsCan release.
Southam News Services Release of VIF publication Current State of Canadian Family Finances.
CanWest News Services
  1. Interpretation of StatsCan data on “life after welfare.”
  2. Commentary on StatsCan release of Census income data.
  3. Fertility rate increase.
  4. Commentary on StatsCan report on part-time work and family-friendly practices.
Canadian Press Speculation re parents refusing to let their older children assume responsibility for decisions.
Reuters StatsCan report on working hours in Canada and the United States.
  1. Commentary on Canadian family finances.
  2. Family policies in Canada.
Radio Canada Int’l
  1. StatsCan release on grandparents.
  2. Immigrant women’s fertility.
CBC Radio
  1. Court ruling re common-law husband responsible for child not his.2) Why family policy has become central to the Quebec election.
  2. Family-friendly policies and programs.
  3. Retirement.
  1. Release of VIF publication Current State of Canadian Family Finances.
  2. Response to Manley’s “family-friendly” budget.
Global TV Family financial “makeovers.”
Canadian Living
  1. Children stressed by too many extra-curricular activities.
  2. Causes of divorce.
  3. Corporal punishment.
Today’s Parent
  1. Family lifestyle factors and childhood eating habits.2) Criteria for family-friendly workplace awards.
  2. Preparing older siblings for arrival of new child in the family.
  3. Parental guilt about amount of time spent with children.
  4. Teen mothers 20 years later: What happened to them and their kids? Time Reasons behind liberalization of attitudes about sex.
BC Business Stay-at-home dads.
L’Actualité Political responses to work-family issues.
Readers’ Digest Number of grandparents in Canada.
Maclean’s Schools and kids’ time stress.